Bel Canto

Final Exam Topic: Criminal Sympathies in Bel Canto
In Bel Canto, Ann Patchett portrays a set of captors who elicit sympathy in readers
despite (and perhaps in some ways because of) their criminal behaviors. On your
final exam, you must examine Patchett’s portrayal of four captors (along with any
related hostages who feel sympathy for these four captors) in individual body
paragraphs that analyze the literary devices and concrete examples Patchett uses in
specific scenes to create and cultivate this curious sympathy, which is a criminal
sympathy not only insofar as it is a sympathy felt for criminals but also insofar as it
incriminates the reader in the process.
In fashioning your argument, you should consider some or all of the following
questions: What is it that makes us sympathize with these characters? In what
specific scenes and through the use of which specific literary devices does the
author create this sympathy? Does our sympathy derive partly from our conviction
that there are varying degrees of guilt or that these characters are not the only
people or social forces culpable for these crimes? Is our sympathy a consequence
of the fact that this novel deepens our understanding of each character's past life
and socio-economic background? And perhaps most intriguingly, does the
sympathy that we feel for these characters in some sense implicate us in their
crimes? Why does reading about and sympathizing with the lives of criminals
have such a powerful psychological effect on readers?
If (as I urge) you discuss the specific techniques the author is using and offer
detailed readings of specific scenes or moments in the novel, you will then succeed
in avoiding the common error of merely summarizing. An essay worthy of an A
will be well conceived, well written, well evidenced, and it will provide your
readers with a way to understand how Patchett creates criminal sympathies.
Characters: Katsumi Hosokawa, Roxanne Coss, Gen Watanabe, Carmen, Ruben
Iglesias, General Benjamin, Simon Thibault, Joachim Messner, Tetsuya Kato,
Father Arguedas, Victor Fyodorov, Oscar Mendoza, Ishamel, Cesar, Beatriz,
Christopf, Governess Esmeralda, President Masuda.