Bel Canto either or

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Final Exam Topic: Criminal Sympathies in Bel Canto

In

Bel Canto

, Ann Patchett portrays a set of characters who elicit sympathy in readers despite (and perhaps in some ways because of) their criminal behaviors.

On your final exam, you must choose FOUR characters who

either

engage in criminal behavior

or

aid criminals, and you must compose a well organized and concretely demonstrated, argumentative essay that explains the literary techniques that Canto employs to create 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 do the authors 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 these novels deepen 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.

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