Essay on James Wodd's How Fiction Works and Ian McEwan's Atonement

1441 Words 6 Pages
James Wood in his book, How Fiction Works, analyzes various essential elements of fiction. Most fascinating of which, is his critique of “Character” and “Sympathy and Complexity”. These two chapters are perfectly exemplified in Ian McEwan’s novel Atonement. The novel demonstrates what Wood calls Sympathetic Identification. When a reader is able to create an emotional connection to particular characters. Author Ian McEwan uses free indirect style to evoke sympathetic identification with characters.
In Atonement the character Briony Tallis embodies the danger that comes with the inability to place oneself in another’s circumstances and emotions. She is unable to sympathetically connect to others. The character of Briony would rather a
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A reader exhibits the ability to connect to characters because it is connected to consciousness. Characters are objects of perception as Wood describes. Characters therefore are the opening and gateways to feeling.
When a novel is unable to create empathy or sympathy in the reader it has failed. For “when the novel in question has failed to teach us how to adapt to its conventions, has failed to manage a specific hunger for its own characters, its own reality level”(Wood, 120). Wood describes a hunger that goes unfed in characters that can’t reach into the reader subconscious. Because Wood explains, “literature can enhance those deep convictions by allowing readers to discover lives lived with similar commitment”(170). A novel allows readers to live and understand through the consciousness of its characters. Wood places this in context by categorizing the reading experience into three aspects. The three aspects “of the experience of reading fiction: language, the world, and the extension of our sympathies toward other selves”(171). The experience is enhances in the novels ability to create an extension of sympathy toward others.
Wood references George Eliot in her essay. She furthers the three aspects Wood laid out in saying “the greatest benefit we owe to the artist,…is the extension of our sympathies…Art is the nearest thing to life; it is a mode of amplifying experience and extending our contact with our fellow-man beyond the bounds of our personal

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