When The Sympathizer breaks from the memoir form in Chapter 19, it opens by framing the Commandant, to whom the “confession” has been addressed, as an editor, “Like Stalin, the commandant was a diligent editor, always ready to note my many errata and digressions and always urging me to delete, excise, reword, or add” (309). This dry comment makes it plain that the commandant (a literal authority) has authority over the text we have been reading this whole time and it retroactively frames the “confession” as more of a memoir. This also begins the shift towards his confinement and torture in order to produce a true confession, one that fits Foucault’s definition from Discipline and Punish, “Through the confession, the accused himself took part in the ritual of producing penal truth” (38). While the rupture in narratological structure and the ambiguity of truth it produces are not necessarily unique to The Sympathizer, the novel manages to problematize both the memoir and the confession as reliable vessels of truth. When the nature of one’s character is on trial, the novel suggests, form is more important than function.
Ultimately, the narrator returns to himself following his successful confession and relates the experience of recovering himself through his manuscript. Yet that process represents another attempt to edit the manuscript and add to it, further distorting or at least concealing the truth value of chapters 1-18. No novel is ever perfectly clear about what is true, but The Sympathizer deserves a lot of credit for forcing its reader to confront and reexamine the problems of authority and the cultural, ideological, and narrative valences that shape what is true, what a character consists of, and their particularities.