Walking in Another’s Skin: Failure of Empathy in to Kill a Mockingbird
HARPER LEE'S TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD: NEW ESSAYS 174-189 (Michael J. Meyer, ed., Scarecrow Press, 2010)
18 Pages Posted: 29 Nov 2010 Last revised: 21 Oct 2013
Date Written: November 21, 2010
Empathy — how it is discussed and deployed by both the characters in To Kill a Mockingbird 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 To Kill a Mockingbird.
Keywords: Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird, rhetoric, Kenneth Burke, empathy, McCleskey v. Kemp
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