Acts Of Compassion And Empathy In Literature

Emapthy is shown in the novel To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, in the short story “Thank You, Ma’am” by Langston Hughes and finally in the article “Learning to Listen” written and narrated by Peggy Ramin. All of the readings demonstrate the concept of empathy through inidvidual characters influenced by the characters around them. In all of the readings, the need for empathy, compassion, or understanding others is revealed.

In the coming-of-age novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, Scout and Jem must learn to understand and share the feelings of another through the lessons of Atticus and through their interactions with the people of Maycomb.

Scout is in fact extremely intelligent at the young age of of six, although she struggles with acceptance in all aspects, especially in the diverse community of Maycomb. She notably does show a bit of empathy towards Miss Caroline on the first day of school, for both of them. Scout attempted to put herself into Miss Caroline’s shoes when she “saw her sink down into her chair and bury her head in her arms.

Had her conduct been more friendly toward me, I would have felt sorry for her. She was a pretty little thing” (Lee 29).

Scout comprehends that Miss Caroline wasn’t appeased with the commotion and chaos that went on right in front of her face that she couldn’t control. Scout saw in Miss Caroline’s face that she was worried, frustrated and threatened by the children she had no idea how to stop.

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Because Scout wasn’t treated how she wanted to be, she lacked a great deal of empathy that Atticus will be able to teach her. Atticus teaches Scout a great deal of compassion and sensitivity for Burris. In the beginning, Scout is jealous of Burris because he doesn’t have to go to school like she does, though she describe him as “the filthiest human I had ever seen. His neck was dark gray, the backs of his hands were rusty, and his fingernails were black deep into the quick” (Lee 35). She believes he’s lucky for only having to go to school for one day a year, but her envy of him shows the lack of understanding and comprehension of his life outside of the classroom that Atticus knows.

Things change when Scout becomes aware of the conditions Burris has to go through in his life everyday. Scout learns that Burris’s life is harder than it should be when Atticus tells her his father “spends his relief checks on green whiskey his children have a way of crying from hunger pains” (Lee 41). Due to Atticus informing Scout about Burris’s father who doesn’t act like the father Scout is used to, she feels a sense of compassion and leniency towards Burris because she now knows his story, thanks to Atticus.

In the empathic article, “Learning to Listen,” Peggy Ramin found that she gained empathy and most of all compassion, traits she never thought she could acquire more of. Peggy was able to put herself in another’s position as she learned what listening truly is. Peggy means “the kind of listening where you find yourself deeply identifying with the person you’re speaking with, when their story becomes so vivid that your world becomes less about you and more about them” (Ramin 2). With this “listening,” she throws her thoughts aside to understand a story other than her own. Peggy learns the trueness of listening through paying attention to what others have to share. Without Peggy’s devoted listening, she wouldn’t have felt so compassionate about her stories of South Africa.

She realized that she could’ve missed a three year old orphaned girl saying “I love you” and she realized that “it’s in those moments when my mouth is closed and my mind is wide open that I’ve learned the most about other people, and perhaps about myself” (Ramin 5,6). Opening ears and hearts to what some have to say bring the deepest affection out of people like it did to Peggy Ramin. Consideration of the feelings of others makes people better listeners and generates looking at things from a different point of view. Through the quick shift in mindset, Peggy Ramin learned more about empathy and compassion she ever thought was possible in just one trip.

In the CommonLit article, Thank You M’am by Langston Hughes, Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones tries to educate Roger on the concepts of honesty and empathy. Roger has no adults looking after him, watching his everyday moves which makes him feel neglected and unwanted, the reasons behind stealing her purse. Mrs. Jones questions his filth as she asks him if “ain’t nobody home to tell you to wash your face?” (Hughes 12). People are more likely to learn and practice morality when it is taught to them with kindness. Roger doesn’t get taught with kindness let alone get taught anything at home. Considering the fact that Roger attempted to steal a lady’s purse, his neglect is caused by is parent’s absence in his life.

Every child needs parental figures in their lives, which for a short amount of time, Mrs. Jones is exactly that to Roger. Rather than reporting Roger to jail, Mrs. Jones uses her own personal experiences to relate to Roger, trying to enforce that there are other alternatives then stealing. She shows empathy when she communicates to him that she “has done things too, which I would not tell you, son – neither tell God, if he didn’t already know” (Hughes 35) through using a term of endearment, “son.” Using this term of endearment helps Mrs. Jones give Roger the affection and support he needs because her being in his shoes before. She understands the place he is in and is trying to teach him right and wrong, with compassionate actions and word choice.

The article “Learning to Listen” by Peggy Ramin, the short story “Thank You Ma’am” by Langston Hughes and the novel To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee all expose acts of compassion and empathy. Empathy is not something that is directly taught, but with the right people with the right morals, deeper connections are formed through empathy and compassion. Though most people still struggle with this concept from fear of embarrassment, the world is very slowly becoming a better place through learning the notions of what empathy is. Without it, the world would be grim and lifeless and connections would not be able to be made.

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Acts Of Compassion And Empathy In Literature. (2022, Jul 16). Retrieved from

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