This article analyses the concept of narrative empathy in illness memoirs. These texts negotiate the narrative identity of an autobiographer as he or she recounts the disruptive experience of illness, an experience in which physical and emotional traces dramatically and definitively shape our sense of self. While narrative emotions are certainly deployed in these autobiographies in order to connect with the readers and promote social change, this empathic connection is not so much aimed at arousing compassion but rather more positive emotions on the experience of illness. I will explore the emotional representations of cancer in Arthur Frank's At the Will of the Body (1991) and Kathlyn Conway's Ordinary Life: A Memoir of Illness (1997), focusing on the identity strategies these authors use in order to become affirmative models of disability and illness, showing the damaging effects not of disease or impairment but, rather, of the cultural mythologies that interpret those conditions in reductive or disparaging ways.
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Competing interests None. declared.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.