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Empathy And Social Change In To Kill A Mockingbird, Milk, And Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner

1846 words - 7 pages

Empathy and Social Change in To Kill a Mockingbird, Milk, and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner Empathy: “The action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experiences fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner” (according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary). When we think of social change, several of the themes in the literature we have discussed are based upon this concept of empathy. In To Kill a Mockingbird, there’s the repetition of the idea that you should stand in someone’s shoes before judging them. In Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, we see a liberal family who finds it difficult to accept interracial marriage when having to personally deal with the issue. In Milk, Harvey discusses how the gay movement has a better chance if more people come out, where if each person knows at least one “homosexual” there’s a better chance of the movement gaining public approval. For social change to occur, one needs to be aware of and sensitive to the issues at hand, and conscious of how everyone’s lives are differently affected in one way or another. Empathy is an important vehicle for creating lasting social change.
In To Kill a Mockingbird, we see a father who continuously promotes a principle of empathy to his children as a way for them to understand and approach important issues that affect people’s daily lives. For example, several times throughout the novel we see Atticus telling his children that you can “never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… until you climb into his skin and walk around in it” (lee 33). Atticus’s character continuously lives by and emphasizes this model. He wants his children to be empathetic and understanding towards others, especially those who are different from them. He begins teaching them this empathetic way of thinking while they are still young and free of prejudices, in hopes that this advice will become embedded into who they are and therefore unconsciously conveyed.
We see how this empathetic approach is further transmitted to Jem and Scout in the scene when the children to go Calpurnia’s church and experience her way of life first hand. Before this experience, Jem and Scout had a narrow view of the African American community and the degree of segregation that existed. When they went to Cal’s church, the children experienced a sort of culture shock, where they quickly realized how different their lives were from people like Cal, where for the first time they were the minority. They also realized that Cal “led a modest double life” (lee 142), where the way she acted around them, was different from the way she acted around those of her community. The fact that Cal could read and speak “correctly,” yet didn’t put herself above others that were illiterate,...

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