By: Mina Gedeon
Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others, to really step in someone else's shoes. In literature empathy is a major role for emotion in a story, it can be viewed and used in many different ways. It can be handled to expose certain characters characteristics and much more. In a novel you must determine how a character feels towards others which can be shoed by empathy. In the novel To Kill A Mocking Bird by Harper Lee, there are quite a few examples of empathy. Tom shows empathy for Mayella, Miss Maudie for Boo, and Atticus towards African Americans.
During Tom Robinsons trial for his crime, Atticus is questioning Mayella Ewell about what her side of the story was, these questions make her nervous and Tom realizes it which leads him to show empathy towards her. "Yes, suh. I felt right sorry for her, she seemed to try and rest of 'em - You felt sorry for her, you felt sorry for her?" (pg. 264). The quote shows how Tom truly felt towards Mayella and during this time period it wasn't the normal thing to do. Tom showing empathy for Mayella can be surprising at most because of what she did to him but him doing this shows his kindness towards others. After all the accusations on Tom by Mayella and all the hardship he is going to have to face, this quote shows what kind of a good man Tom is. Empathy from Tom is also shown when he supports her. Atticus was on his feet, but Tom Robinson didn't need him. "I don't say she lyin' Mr. Gilmer, I say she's mistaken in her mind." (pg.264). In the quote Tom is speaking on behalf of Mayella's accusations and how none of them were actually true. Tom says that she is just mistaken in her mind instead of she is lying because he wants everyone to know that he has empathy towards her. By switching his words to accommodate to a more kind side shows how Tom wanted Mayella to not be accused of anything or in any kind of trouble. Tom Robinson, even though wrongly convicted of things he didn't do, shows immense amounts of empathy towards Mayella.
Miss Maudie shows large amounts of empathy towards Boo Radley when she explains to the children why Boo has decided to stay inside. "His name is Arthur and he's alive. What a, morbid question. But I suppose it's a morbid subject. I know he's alive, Jean Louise, because I haven't seen him carried out yet." (pg.54). Scout asks Miss Maudie if Arthur 'Boo' Radley is really still alive and her response shows how she shows empathy towards him, even if it is very subtle. Miss Maudie knows he doesn't want to come out of his house so instead of being rude she just strictly answers her question. Miss Maudie also acknowledges how Arthur doesn't really want to be talked about so she almost scolds Scout by telling her it is a morbid question. This is also evident when she answers another one of Scouts questions. "Arthur Radley just stays in the house, that's all. Wouldn't you stay in the house if you didn't want to come out?" (pg.55). This quote shows how Miss Maudie can relate to Arthur Radley by how she answers this question about Boo. In response to Scouts question she tells her what if Boo doesn't want to come out? Her saying this shows how she has empathy for Boo and how she knows what it is like to be left out or shunned. She knows this feeling by how the foot-washing priests treat her. This proves that even though Miss Maudie is a lot of talk she still has a pure heart.
During this time period African Americans were not really accepted into society. So Atticus shows empathy towards Tom and all African Americans by being Toms lawyer which was a job no one wanted to do. "'Scout', said Atticus, 'nigger-lover is just one of the terms that don't mean anything like snot nose. it's hard to explain - ignorant, trashy people use it when they think somebody's favoring Negreos over and above themselves." (pg.107). In the Story a running theme is segregation and Atticus Finch shows many examples of him showing empathy towards them. In this quote he is saying that the word nigger is only rude and unintelligent, he knows that anyone who uses the word is no good to any extent. Atticus is showing how he truly doesn't appreciate any foul language towards anyone which shows how he has empathy towards others. Miss Maudie then explains to Scout some other kind things Atticus has the tendency to do. "There are some men in this world who were born to do our unpleasant jobs for us. Your father is one of them. He's the only man in these parts who can keep a jury out so long in a case like this" (pg.283). The quote is showing how Atticus is a humble man coming from the mouth of Miss Maudie, which shows the audience that what Atticus does is for the greater good of the community. Since he decided to defend Tom without any arguing which means he wanted to help him, showing his true generosity. This quote also is saying that Atticus will do anything for anyone in need because of his empathy towards them. Atticus is known for being a humble man and these examples prove it.
Some people may not agree or accept that some of the citizens of Maycomb can actually show empathy towards African Americans. It is true in some points of the story their are some examples of people disrespecting people of the opposite race. One example could be when the news of Tom Robinsons death reaches the town and no one responded. It was said the news got around town and was then forgotten which proves this point. But this inaccurate view proves almost nothing because there are ,many examples of Whites showing empathy towards African Americans in the book. One of the largest examples is Atticus and his humbleness towards Tom Robinson and everything he did for him. The idea of no empathy is absurd. Atticus proves this by saying. "If you just learn a single trick, Scout, you'll get along a lot better with all kinds of folk. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view...until you climb in his skin and walk around in it." (pg. 109). Furthermore the idea that there was no empathy toward African Americans was wrong and the examples of Atticus proved my paint.
In conclusion the whole novel has multiple examples of empathy which demonstrates how it is one the most important characteristics of the people in the story. Atticus is probably one of the most humble person in the book he shows lots of empathy towards Tom and his whole race as well as Miss Maudie towards Boo and Tom for Mayella. Empathy is a serious topic and should be used in lots of things but most importantly literature.