"Let readers imagine" : rhetorical manipulation in three transgressive novels (2001)
This thesis will examine three novels, Lolita (Vladimir Nabokov 1955), A Clockwork Orange (Anthony Burgess 1961) and American Psycho (Bret Easton Ellis 1991), and the rhetorical techniques, devices and strategies that function within these texts to manipulate the response of the reader. The three novels are transgressive texts in the sense that their narrators, Humbert Humbert, Alex and Patrick Bateman, all transgress fundamental societal taboos. Their abhorrent behaviour suggests a response from the reader of repugnance and disgust. Instead, we find ourselves imaginatively identifying and empathising with these vicious literary monsters, and thus the novels prove shocking. It will be argued that the effect of this unexpected and reluctant sense of identification is to complicate and extend our sense of the human, and the processes and patterns by which we judge evil. This results in a new awareness for the reader: an understanding that our moral assumptions do not exist within a stable moral framework. Consequently, we can not easily define ourselves against those whom we perceive as evil. In reading these novels and acknowledging a sense of empathy for the narrators, we broaden our moral perspectives, gain deeper levels of understanding and allow for a world full of uncertainties and possibilities.
KeywordsNabokov, Vladimir Vladimirovich,--1899-1977--Lolita; Burgess, Anthony,--1917---Clockwork orange; Ellis, Bret Easton.--American psycho.; Fiction--20th century--History and criticism; Empathy in literature
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