Date of Award

Spring 2020

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



Committee Chairperson

Eleanor F. Shevlin, Ph.D.

Committee Member

William M. Nessly, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Ruth Porritt, Ph.D.


Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer and Adam Johnson’s The Orphan Master’s Son are both Pulitzer Prize-winning novels from the first half of the 2010s. Nguyen’s novel of a Vietnamese spy in America during the Vietnam war has been critically acclaimed and has attracted significant scholarly attention, a special issue of PMLA being dedicated to the work. Johnson’s novel about North Korea, while also a recipient of praise, has been comparatively less noticed and attracted little scholarly work. This thesis seeks to contribute to the scholarly literature on American literature and to literature on the poetics of the novel by reading these two US novels together, focusing especially on the theme of confession and its relation to an ethics of reading. The confession has a mode has exigency in a society enamored with what I call a logic of presentation. I argue that the poetics of the novel as a genre allows these two works to represent identity in ways that undermine demands that the characters be “authentic” in commodifiable ways. The narrative strategies used in Nguyen’s and Johnson’s novel are sophisticated and strategic, and their representations of identity create the conditions for what I call aesthetic faith. I conclude that this aesthetic faith involves a novel’s ability to suggest the supersensible realm of consciousness, and thus supports the reader’s openness to an atopic but socially-embedded otherness.