Free indirect discourse (FID) is a widely studied mode of speech and consciousness representation in narratives. One aspect of analysis and debate is the combination of the character’s stream of consciousness and the narrator’s voice. Various ideas about the effects FID might have on readers have been formulated. Some of these hypotheses are contradictory, which makes them an excellent starting point for reader response studies. More in particular, there seems to be disagreement whether FID increases or decreases readers’ empathy for story characters. Also, there is no consensus concerning the effect on the transparency of the narrator’s stance toward the story character, nor on the clarity of the implied author’s intentions. Rather than adding theoretical arguments, historical evidence, or exegeses of textual examples, the present contribution attempts to explore the empirical validity of FID hypotheses in a series of reading experiments. The results of these studies demonstrate that the effects of FID are limited, at least when we consider the strength and range of the predicted effects. While the general effect on visibility of character’s consciousness appears robust, there were no consistent effects of FID on variables like empathy or sympathy with the character and variables pertaining to the perception of the author’s opinion and the moral of the story.

empathy, free indirect discourse, moral judgment, narratology, reader response,
ERMeCC - Erasmus Research Centre for Media, Communication and Culture
Journal of Literary Theory
Department of Media and Communication

Koopman, E.M. (2010). Readers closing in on immoral characters’ consciousness. Effects of free indirect discourse on response to literary narratives. Journal of Literary Theory, 4(1), 41–62. doi:10.1515/JLT.2010.004