Date of Completion


Embargo Period



Empathy, Human rights narratives, Latin American Literature, Violence, Colombia, Guatemala, affects, emotions

Major Advisor

Guillermo Irizarry, Ph.D.

Associate Advisor

Miguel Gomes, Ph.D.

Associate Advisor

Jacqueline Loss, Ph.D.

Field of Study

Literatures, Languages, and Cultures


Doctor of Philosophy

Open Access

Open Access


This dissertation provides a historicized standpoint for the study of empathy in human rights literature from Latin America. For that I propose the concept of reflective empathy, an ethically meaningful stance on this perspective-taking process. I analyze the political and ideological constructions behind fictional narratives that bring about empathic bonds between readers and the objects of narrative. A corpus of four post-Cold War novels is studied, written in Guatemala and Colombia and released by transnational publishing houses in the last fifteen years: Horacio Castellanos Moya’s Insensatez (2004), Rodrigo Rey Rosa’s El material humano (2009), Evelio Rosero’s Los ejércitos (2007), and Juan Gabriel Vásquez’s El ruido de las cosas al caer (2011). The return to democracy in Latin America following the dictatorships of the ‘70s and ‘80s brought about different approaches towards memory and the hidden or forgotten abuses of the past, as well as a critical perspective on the present and the consequences of neoliberal policies implemented throughout the continent. I seek to explain how these political configurations of empathy negotiate the violent histories of both countries: Guatemala, in the aftermath of its civil war (1960-1996) and the Mayan genocide (1981-1983), during which nearly 200,000 people were killed; and Colombia, a society in the dawning of a post-conflict era, haunted by the death of 180,000 civilians and the displacement of nearly six million persons over the longest internal war of the hemisphere (1960-2016). The role of memory and cultural trauma thus becomes a significant element in the interpretation of these novels. Hence, I analyze each novel under the scope of reflexive empathy, human rights narratives, body and trauma, and slow violence. After exploring how these texts problematize empathy in their plots, characters, and interpretations of the past, while also examining the critical relations between the novels and human rights discourse, I argue that the novels present alternative configurations of empathy in Latin America that disrupt the articulation of emotions by the official discourse through symbolic violence. I conclude that these novels support a reflexive view of empathy that invites the reader to embark into a complex imaginative substitution.

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