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The Role of Empathy in Parable of the Sower and Between the World and Me
Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler and Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates are two influential books that address the most common and controversial subjects of social, political, economic and racial injustices that have been in existence in our society. Based in the future, Parable of the Sower highlights the social disparities that exist in our society, the rising gap between poor and the rich, climate change that has resulted to prevalent drought, the high cost of living and how the corporations and employers have more power, own bigger portions of the towns and successfully keep their employees in effective slavery. The future Butler depicts in this story is frightening because of its plausibility. On the other hand, Between the World and Me addresses the existing racial discriminations and issues in America. In this letter, Ta-Nehisi Coates tells his son what being Black in America means. He narrates his experience as a Black person in America at the time of growing up and even highlights the fresh and most recent attacks on the Black community such as the shooting that killed Michael Brown, which is still fresh in the minds of the Black Americans. However, the two writings show how the marginalized in the society survive the discriminations and the neglects. One of the ways highlighted by these writers is empathy. Since the government and the high social class do not show empathy to the poverty stricken and marginalized communities, they, together with other compassionate people, find a way to show empathy among them.
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As such, this paper seeks to compare the role of empathy in these two works of literature and how empathy is a relevant aspect in the creation of a more just world.
First, in Parable of Sower, Butler depicts a society divided along social and economic lines. In her depiction, she describes a gated community where the protagonist, Lauren Olamina, a 15-year-old Black American child of a church minister, lives. Particularly, Lauren can be heard expressing her devastation by describing her neighborhood when she says “…an island surrounded by sharks – except the sharks don’t bother you unless you go in the water. But our land sharks are on their way in. It’s just a matter of how long it takes for them to get hungry enough” (Butler 50). Here, Butler tries to create a picture of a poor community that is characterized by crime, drugs, and frustrations. He depicts a dangerous community with human vultures who hunt for fellow human beings. Essentially, what this description tries to show is the social disparities that exist in our society. We have a picture of a gated community surrounded by poverty stricken community that resorts to violence and crime to express their frustrations. This picture fits exactly into the description provided by Nikki Jones, in his book, of a ghetto and poor community. In fact, the crimes seen in this community are a characteristic of poverty as denoted by Jones (Jones 5). In essence, the society depicted by Butler is an unjust society; a society where other people are privileged while others are underprivileged. The poverty-stricken communities are out to torment the privileged to express their frustrations. The question is, however, what can be done to achieve a just community; a community where people live in harmony and care for each other without resorting to criminal activities. The answer to this question lies with Lauren.
In this world, Lauren has a power referred to as hyper empathy which makes her feel pleasure and pain of other individuals. Despite the dangerous community that she lives, Lauren shows empathy to the less privileged in the society. She tries to help as much as she can. For instance, Lauren is a very compassionate person but not a bleeding heart. Even when she makes a decision to take in the suffering little Amy Dunn under her care, she angrily notes that “I’ve been taking care of little kids since I was one, and I’m tired of it. I think, though, that if someone doesn’t help Amy now, someday she’ll do something a whole lot worse than burning down her family’s garage” (Butler 34). Here, Lauren takes the initiative to help the needy and the poor in the society rather than neglecting them. In fact, the power of empathy is clearly manifested in Lauren despite the danger that the act poses to Lauren.
Essentially, Lauren’s personality shows us the power of empathy in a society. In essence, this virtue can be used to achieve a just community. In a setting where other people are privileged while others are not, it is upon individuals to take the initiative, driven by empathy, to help the underprivileged fight the poverty. For instance, Lauren takes Amy Dunn under her care and incorporates her in her class. The empathy Lauren shows to Dunn, in the long-run, may have benefitted Dunn and raised his status in the society. More importantly, in this kind of society, the privileged should be able to show empathy to the under-privileged in order to achieve a just community. Achieving a just community can help in doing away with a number of criminal activities, thereby, achieving a safe neighborhood. As demonstrated by Lauren, the role of individual empathy in achieving a just community becomes evident when she successfully manages to build a just community around her. Through her empathy, together with her intellect and planning, she manages to build a loyal community of individuals who support one another.
Similarly, Between the World and Me express the experience the Black community, as the marginalized community, goes through in America. Being a letter to his son, Coates tells his son about the unjust society they live in; a society where the black body is susceptible to destruction. According to Coates, “To be Black in Baltimore of my youth was to be naked before the elements of the world, before all the guns, the knives…and diseases” (Coates 17). Here, Coates tries to tell his son how the society treated the Black community. He says that they were made to live in fear with the policies and regulations that were all against them. In essence, the unjust treatments against the Black community started way back.
However, in the contemporary society, the situation has significantly changed. The society has become friendlier to the Black community. The question is, however, how this just society has been achieved. This takes us back to Michael Brown’s case; particularly the Supreme Court ruling of this case. According to Michael Klarman, “the Supreme Court never clearly contravened national public opinion,” (Klarman 122). This is to mean that the Supreme Court paid attention to the opinion of the people in the society. This decision of the court was disputed by more than half of the American population and this was a turning point in the fight against racism. Since then, the society has come out in arms to preach equal treatment in the social, economic and political spheres. This is as a result of the empathy people have had as a result of the ill-treatments the Black community has been going through. Even though most people are not directly affected by these injustices, they are driven by their inner consciousness and sympathy for the other members of the society to stand up against the injustices. Just like in Butler’s literature, empathy has been very vital and the driving forces in these movements. These movements have the agenda to achieve a just community where people are treated equally. As a result, the injustices against the black community have significantly reduced. The few cases that have been highlighted by Coates have received serious attention and criticism which have been made possible by the interventions of the civil rights movements. In essence, empathy has played a big role in this transformation. For instance, slavery was an inhuman treatment of the Blacks and many people that criticized the act did so out of sympathy and compassion for the Black community.
However, the difference between the two kinds of literature is in the way the initiative is taken to achieve a just society. In Butler’s literature, it takes the empathy of an individual to change the status of the society. Lauren acts out of compassion for the poor to achieve a strong and just community where people live in harmony. On the other hand, for the injustices highlighted by Coates’s literature, it takes the whole community and society to stand against the unjust treatment of other people. This is also driven by empathy and compassion as people feel the pain the other communities go through and decides to stand against the injustices.
In conclusion, these two works of literature highlight the injustices that exist in our society today. Poverty, social inequality, racial discrimination as well as crime are all covered by the two authors. Being members of the marginalized communities, they try to speak against these injustices in the society offer empathy as a solution to these problems. In Parable of the Sower, Lauren achieves a strong, united and just community with her compassion and ability to experience the pain those that suffer in the society feel. Similarly, slavery, as depicted by Coates, was ended because of the civil rights movements and activists who were motivated by sympathy and compassion for the slaves that were suffering as a result of the ill-treatment by their masters and the society as a whole.
Butler, Octavia E. Parable of the Sower. Vol. 1. Open Road Media, 2012. Print. https://www.docdroid.net/ijgt/parable-of-the-sower.pdf.html
Coates, Ta-Nehisi. Between the World and Me. Text publishing, 2015. Print. http://www.mercerislandschools.org/cms/lib3/WA01001855/Centricity/Domain/640/Ta-Nehisi%20Coates%20PDF.pdf
Klarman, Michael J. The Supreme Court and the Struggle for Racial Equality. Vol. 152. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006. Print. https://www.amazon.com/Jim-Crow-Civil-Rights-Struggle/dp/0195310187
Jones, Nikki. Between Good and Ghetto: African American Girls and Inner-city Violence. Rutgers University Press, 2009. Print. https://books.google.co.ke/books?hl=en&lr=&id=7KPF4vngrsgC&oi=fnd&pg=PR7&dq=gheto+setting&ots=25dqH7A1B9&sig=smwSTX9fy5Rrr5MLN2UE8qFiYSE&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q&f=false
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