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Author ORCID Identifier


Campus-Only Access for Five (5) Years

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program


Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded


First Advisor

Stephen Clingman

Second Advisor

Suzanne Daly

Third Advisor

Asha Nadkarni

Fourth Advisor

Linda R. Tropp

Subject Categories

Literature in English, Anglophone outside British Isles and North America


This dissertation examines the workings of empathy in literary portrayals of political conflicts in postcolonial Africa and South Asia. Theorizing empathy as a multivalent engagement with others’ experiences, I argue that postcolonial conflict fiction highlights the ambiguities and contingencies of empathy. My study shows that empathy can disrupt discourses of othering but also suppress difference; further, empathy can produce a variety of responses ranging from affinity to contempt for others and can lead the self to embrace as well as recoil from its dependencies on and responsibilities toward others. Specifically, I demonstrate how these ambivalences of empathy inform several facets of political conflicts, including the perpetration of violence and the processes of reconciliation. Apart from suggesting that empathy variously perpetuates and mitigates conflict, postcolonial conflict fiction invites ethical engagement from readers by selectively evoking and averting their empathy, and by attuning them to the implications of their empathic responses.

The introductory chapter develops a critical theory of empathy and discusses the factors that have shaped postcolonial conflicts such as the Kashmir conflict and the Nigerian civil war. In Chapter 1, I investigate the ethics of empathizing with perpetrators of violence, apart from illustrating how empathy enables and thwarts violence, through readings of Chris Abani’s Song for Night, Uzodinma Iweala’s Beasts of No Nation, and Neel Mukherjee’s The Lives of Others. In Chapter 2, I read Hisham Matar’s In the Country of Men and Mirza Waheed’s The Collaborator to suggest that crises of witnessing during political upheavals are crucially tied to the empathic precarity that arises when people find themselves and others changing almost beyond recognition. Focusing on post-conflict environments, Chapter 3 analyzes J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace and Tahmima Anam’s The Good Muslim to argue that empathic reading of others’ silences can risk intrusive appropriation, while neglecting their silences can perpetuate trauma and shame. In Chapter 4, I examine Marlene van Niekerk’s Agaat and Aminatta Forna’s The Memory of Love to show how the tension between desire for and fear of empathy animates confessional self-narratives geared toward reconciliation. This dissertation thus illustrates the multi-vectored role that empathy plays in postcolonial political conflicts.


Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

Available for download on Thursday, May 13, 2027