December 8, 2010

Empathy In "To Kill a Mockingbird"

Katie Rose Guest Pryal, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, has published Walking in Another’s Skin: Failure of Empathy in to Kill a Mockingbird , in Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird: New Essays, Chapter 12 (Michael J. Meyer ed., The Scarecrow Press, UK, 2010). Here is the abstract.

Empathy - how it is discussed and deployed by both the characters in TKAM and by the author, Lee - is a useful lens to view the depictions of racial injustice in the novel, because empathy is the moral fulcrum on which the narrative turns. In this essay, I argue that To Kill a Mockingbird fails to aptly demonstrate the practice of cross-racial empathy. As a consequence, readers cannot empathize with the (largely silent) black characters of the novel. In order to examine the concept of empathy, I have developed a critical framework derived from rhetorician Kenneth Burke's theory of identification and then used this framework to examine some ways in which empathy manifests itself in our legal system, manifestations that help reveal the failings of TKAM.
Download the essay from SSRN at the link.

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