When reading the short stories, the reader feels that fiction indeed does teach empathy. Often in a story, the reader sympathizes with a character in the story. This occurs because of how the author uses words and narrative techniques. The author uses empathy very cleverly. The characters that the author chooses to empathize are brought to life in a real form and are made more believable to the reader. All great authors and literary works use empathy, and achieve it well.
One example that suggests pity is, "I Stand Here Ironing" by Tillie Olsen. In the story the reader can easily empathize with the mother. The story is told in the first person point of view, so we learn that she has many children but is accused of neglecting her first born, Emily. At first, the reader feels sorry for Emily, "she's a youngster who needs help", but as the story continues, we learn more about the mother. As we read into the story, more empathy is collected. The mother shares with the "counselor" that " [she] loved her", and "there were all the acts of love".
The reader now feels empathy for the mother and Emily. Setting plays a big role in showing empathy. The mother explains how tough life was during the "pre-relief, pre-WPA world of the depression". Later, the mother shares that she "was nineteen" when she gave birth to Emily. Also, Emily was "neglected" because her mother was always working. Also, the mother being a single mother also adds to the empathy that the reader feels for the mother.
Tillie Olsen used point of view to create empathy for the mother. The reader may not have gained so much compassion if the story was not told in first person. Because of the point of view, "I Stand Here Ironing" makes the reader gain insight from the mother's perspective. If the story was told form third person, we may not have known how truly hard it was on the mother. Many outsiders could not feel or portray her hardships, only criticize. Olsen also uses flashbacks to gain empathy for the mother.
"The old man... once said in his gentle way: 'you should smile at Emily more when you look at her. ' " By using flashback, the reader understands the troubles that she was going through while raising Emily. Lastly, Olsen uniquely conveys the story through Interior monologue. Interior monologue is unlike the writing of most authors. The story is not told in dialogue or description, but rather as a conversation with of the mother and herself. She asks questions to herself in this manner, not saying them out loud or to anyone in particular, "even if I came, what good would it do?" Using point of view, flashback, and interior monologue Olsen was able to teach the reader emotional identification and insight.
Another narrative technique used to teach empathy is characterization by William Faulkner in "A Rose for Emily". In this story, the reader indirectly learns and understands Emily's feelings very well because of the author's choice of words. Despite the fact that Emily is convicted of tax evasion, murder, and necrophilia, the reader can show compassion for Emily. Faulkner describes her and her pain so well that the reader begins to pity her, saying, "that was two years after her father's death and a short time after her sweetheart-the one we believed would marry her-had deserted her". We begin to pity her more when Faulkner tells us, "She was sick for a long time". His descriptive words, such as, "despair, diffident, crazy, motionless, and pallid", make us feel how Emily was feeling in spite of her demented decisions.
Faulkner teaches the reader about Emily's thoughts and grief to gain a great deal of empathy. Lastly, in "The Chrysanthemums" by John Steinbeck, empathy is obtained in length through naturalism. Naturalism is the writing that shows the harsh realities of the environment and time. This helps the reader sense Elisa's true sadness. For instance, if the story had been written in any other time period, the reader would not be capable of feeling Elisa's pain, or the hurt may not have existed at all.
Elisa loved tending to her joy, the chrysanthemums. She became so amazing at taking care of them that they "seemed too small and easy for her energy". In her garden patch, "No aphids were there, no sow bugs, or snails, or cutworms. Her terrier fingers destroyed such pests before they could get started". Despite her hard and loving work, she went unappreciated by her husband and all other men around her. She so desperately wanted to be loved and appreciated.
These feelings were constantly unattainable throughout the story mainly because of the time period. We know that the story took place at least 40 years ago when the tinker does his work for such a low price. He tells Elisa, "Oh, fifty cents " ll do". And then "Elisa brought him a fifty cent piece". Today, there is no fifty cent piece that is commonly used in our currency. Although fifty cents is a small price, Elisa is willing to pay anything to have her tinker accept and share the same love for the flowers as she does.
At first, the tinker did show signs of affection for Elisa. He sympathizes with her saying; "It ain't the right kind of life for a woman". She begins to feel loved by him. She also starts to find a common ground with him, gardening and with the chrysanthemums.
But, in the end, her open heart is trampled on because the love is untrue. "Steinbeck uses symbolism and vivid imagery to help the reader emotionally feel for Elisa. The chrysanthemums are much more to her than just a flower or hobby. She opens her pure heart to the tinker when sharing the flowers, only to get hurt by him. When Elisa sees the run over chrysanthemums on the side of the road, it symbolizes her in the way that she has been trampled over. "She tried not to look as they passed it, but her eyes would not obey".
At this point, the definitive empathy is gained for Elisa. Through symbolism and naturalism, Steinbeck gains critical empathy. But, as previously discussed, point of view, flashback and characterization also contribute to empathy. Many techniques may be used, but only certain outstanding authors can truly attain the reader's empathy.