The Importance of Perspective Taking in Literature

In our smaller group discussions last class, Sami brought up this really interesting phenomenon where individuals are more likely to be empathetic and sympathetic in their everyday life if they are avid readers. According to Sami, because most readers are putting themselves into the mindsets of the characters in novel, they are better skilled at that in real interactions. Reading novels allows a person to walk in anther’s shoes, understand events from another’s perspective, and empathize with characters. This really got me thinking about the regime of the visual. I question whether a reader is more likely to empathize with characters because it is their own visualization of said characters. For example, has anyone ever been frustrated with a film adaptation of a book because its not how YOU imagined how the character would look and act like. I think Octavia Butler tricks us with this very human tendency. Many other classmates have stated that they couldn’t picture the Oankali and Ooloi.  When we read descriptions of these species from Human characters, the details are a little vague. All we know is that at first glance they appear to be grotesque. After calming down the best the human characters can do is compare the species to a starfish-like creature. I believe this ambiguity is what tricks readers into allowing for more hate and violence to be done to the Oankali. Because we cannot visualize and therefore empathize with these species in the first book of the Lilith’s Brood Trilogy, we are more likely to dislike them and their decisions. This tendency, at least for me, changed in the second book from the perspective of Akon. I was more likely to care about the other species, maybe even more so than the resister human beings.

One Reply to “The Importance of Perspective Taking in Literature”

  1. Cassie,
    I think you make valid points in this post and I definitely share your perspectives on these aspects of Butler’s work. I find myself wondering if we empathize more with characters whom we are better able to understand not only in terms of the visual, as you state in this post, but also in terms of species. I am thinking back to our class discussion about the relationship between Shori and Wright in Fledgling; the textual evidence seemed to support the idea that their relationship was symbiotic in nature, but yet the tendency of the class seemed to be to sympathetic toward Wright. Is it easier to assume that Wright is being taken advantage of because he is human, and we therefore relate with him more than Shori, a non-human? Are we more readily skeptical of Shori’s intentions because she is non-human? Obviously you don’t have to answer these questions – these are just some ideas that your post has made me reconsider through a slightly different lens, and for that, I thank you!

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