Representing the Twenty-First Century Migrant Experience: Adam and Fleutiaux’s Problematic Empathy


  • Marianne Bessy Furman University
  • Mary Sloan Morris Furman University



In recent years, a trend in French literature has emerged among non-migrant French authors. In her 2018 study, The Migrant Canon in Twenty-First-Century France, Sabo describes this trend as “the emergence of French authors who write about migration” (27). Similarly, Louviot argued that “the drama of migrants dying on Europe’s doorstep has inspired many […] French writers with no postcolonial or (im)migrant background” (6). This article—which focuses on two texts, À l’abri de rien by Olivier Adam (2007) and Destiny by Pierrette Fleutiaux (2016)—examines how non-migrant French authors have attempted to give a voice to illegal migrants in their recent literary works. Each work recounts the story of a French woman who attempts to help one or several migrants as they navigate horrid living conditions (in a Calais-like city in À l’abri de rien and in Paris in Destiny), suffer mental and physical breakdowns, and face French authorities. This study demonstrates that there is an inherent ambivalence at the heart of how these two non-migrant French authors have attempted to voice the plight of today’s illegal migrants in France. While Adam and Fleutiaux’s texts aim to foster empathy toward migrants, they also feature complex altruistic motives that are far from selfless. Adam and Fleutiaux strive to humanize migrants and their trajectories by creating an empathic discourse of care. However, migrant characters are also portrayed as passive objects of fascination becoming pawn-like figures in the lives of the two white female protagonists. The article questions these characters’ altruism by analyzing how their own mental states overpower their empathic drives, thus bringing to light the questionable reasons why these two women become consumed by the need to help migrants. Ultimately, these considerations help build a critique of the problematic empathy Adam and Fleutiaux have constructed and its ethical ramifications.

Bibliographies de l'auteur-e

Marianne Bessy, Furman University

Marianne Bessy received her Ph.D. from Louisiana State University in 2008. She is Associate professor of French at Furman University (Greenville, SC, USA). Her scholarly work focuses primarily on the texts of author Vassilis Alexakis and on contemporary migrant literature in French. Her first book, Vassilis Alexakis: Exorciser l’exil, was published by Rodopi in 2011. Her second book, a multi-author collection titled Racines et déracinements au grand écran: Trajectoires migratoires dans le cinéma français du XXIème siècle, co-edited with Carole Salmon, was published by Brill in 2016. A passionate teacher, Bessy also presents and publishes research related to the Scholarship of Teaching of Learning.

Mary Sloan Morris, Furman University

Mary Sloan Morris has been passionate about French and Francophone studies for many years. She is currently completing a degree in French and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Furman University (Greenville, SC, USA). In 2019, she was awarded a competitive summer research fellowship. During this research experience, she investigated the representation of illegal migration in contemporary French literature under the mentorship of Marianne Bessy. Morris has presented her work at the 91th South Atlantic Modern Language Association. She intends to continue her French studies in graduate school and hopes to become a professor.




Comment citer

Bessy, M., & Morris, M. S. (2020). Representing the Twenty-First Century Migrant Experience: Adam and Fleutiaux’s Problematic Empathy. ALTERNATIVE FRANCOPHONE, 2(6), 65–88.