Analysis Of Obasan By Joy Kogawa

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Ideological Effect of Empathetic Identification to Historical Fiction

In the novel Obasan, by Joy Kogawa, the genres of “imaginative fiction” and “historical fiction” are blended together, ultimately with a purpose of exposing the public to an event that has emotional value to the author. Specifically with Obasan, Kogawa recalls the suffering of the Japanese-Canadians during World War 2 using fictional characters in a very real and emotional setting. It is apparent that one of the main purposes of this novel was to expose the public to the suffering and hardships that were not very apparent at the time (1981). Scholars like Kimberly Davis and Eva Marie Koopman discuss the difference between empathy and sympathy and how it affected the perspective
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In the section of Davis’ article, “The ‘Humanizing Emotions’” he explains his knowledge on sympathy, empathy and compassion, emphasizing on the difference and effects of each. He defines sympathy as an umbrella term and that compassion and sympathy blend together. Sympathy is more a passing feeling for another person, almost seen as a social requirement. Another scholar, Doris Sommer, describes the sympathy of white liberals in racial situations as “a facile form of connection that lasts ‘hardly longer than the reading of a novel’(Davis 405).” Some letters express this shallow form of sympathy due their change in perspective. For example, Ruth Weber, compliments Kogawa on her writing and then says how it was “emotional and informative” and now she “understands better”. This response falls under Sommer’s definition, however many of the other letters resembled actually empathy, but between Davis and Koopman several types of empathy are discussed. Davis defines empathy as “The notion of responsivity to the experiences of another(408)” but Koopman says it signifies “a stronger element of identification or ‘perspective-taking’(64)”. Davis expands on this by bringing up the term “empathetic identification” which is basically adding to the idea that to have empathy for someone you relate, or identify, with them. On the other hand, Koopman splits empathy into two sections, cognitive empathy, “ the ability to understand someone else’s perspective” and emotional empathy, “feeling similar emotions to someone else”(Koopman 64). Ann Goard, a woman who wrote to Kogawa about her Japanese friend during WWII, could fall under cognitive empathy, “the ability to understand someone else’s perspective(64)”. Unless someone went through the same experience as Kogawa or experienced a similar racial mistreatment, then emotional empathy is nonexistent in the

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