Empathy is defined as having the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.
In the book, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Atticus strives to encourage Scout to understand other
people, rather than make fun of them. Scout is told by Atticus that in order to truly understand
another person you must “climb into his skin and walk around in it.” This idea appears in many
genres and is known as empathy. In the three selections, “The Harvest Gypsies” by John
Steinbeck, “The Jungle” by Upton Sinclair, and “Statement on the Assassination of Martin
Luther King, Jr.” by Robert F. Kennedy, empathy is evoked in an audience to inspire action and
bring about a deeper understanding of the world. Although these stories all provided an
understanding of empathy, “The Harvest Gypsies” presents it the best for the reason that the
author compares and contrasts two families, uses emotion to convince readers to feel a certain
way, and does not make his opinion on the issue clear.
First off, in “The Harvest Gypsies,” readers are able to understand the wretched living
conditions of families who lived in camps without proper sanitation. The article states the
struggles that migrant workers had to go through daily. The author, John Steinbeck, only
provides information about two families; a middle class and lower class family. This allows an
opportunity for comparing and contrasting them. Upton Sinclair in “The Jungle,” displays the
dreary living conditions in factories and the awfulness of the industries. The horrendous
circumstances in the Stockyard caused the workers to be treated inhumanely. Although Upton
Sinclair in “The Jungle” makes the conditions of the factories and the industries clear, John
Steinbeck in “The Harvest Gypsies” includes information about two different families, and the
reader is able to compare their similarities and differences. This convinces the reader to feel a
greater amount of empathy in the article because they connect more with the story and its
message. In paragraph 1 the author states that in the middle-class family's tent, “There is one bed
in the family and that is a big tick lying on the ground inside the tent.” In paragraph 16 the
author also states that the lower class family "... has found a big piece of old carpet. It is on the
ground. To go to bed the members of the family lie on the ground and fold the carpet up over
them." With this information, the reader is able to identify how similar these two families are.
The middle-class family at the very least have a tick to sleep on and can avoid sleeping on the
dirty cold ground, unlike the lower class family. As shown above, Upton Sinclair does not
provide an opportunity to compare and contrast the conditions of the industries, which blocks the
reader from receiving a greater understanding of empathy.
Second of all, In “The Harvest Gypsies,” John Steinbeck uses emotion to convince
readers to feel a certain way on the subject. In paragraph 7 the author states the reason as to why
the middle-class family’s son died, “They know pretty well that it was a diet of fresh fruit, beans
and little else that caused his death. He had no milk for months.” With this, the author persuades
the reader to imagine themselves living with little food and having similar conditions as them.
This causes the reader to put themselves in the place of the family and feel empathy towards the
situation. In “Statement on the Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.,” Robert F. Kennedy
informed the audience that attended his campaign rally brief but powerful remarks about Martin
Luther King’s death. In paragraph 2 Kennedy states, “Martin Luther King dedicated his life to
love and to justice between fellow human being.” Although this does cause the reader to feel
compassion, Kennedy does not allow an opportunity for the reader to put themselves in the place
of King or his family and friends. All in all, Kennedy does not make the readers feel what King’s
family was feeling, instead, he makes them feel compassion. Moreover, “The Harvest Gypsies,”
provides information that puts the reader in the place of the individuals, which leads to empathy.
“Statement on the Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.” on the other hand, does use enough
to make the reader feel empathy.
Third of all, John Steinbeck in “The Harvest Gypsies does not make his opinion on the
issue clear. Instead, he only provides the reader with facts. In paragraph 3 the author states,
“There is more filth here. The tent is full of flies clinging to the apple box that is the dinner table,
buzzing about the foul clothes of the children, particularly the baby; who has not been bathed nor
cleaned for several days.” By only stating facts, Steinbeck allows the reader to make an inference
as to what he is trying to make others feel towards the issue. Steinbeck makes the audience feel
empathy towards the families because he is not telling them what to feel or believe, but instead is
giving them the opportunity to come to their own conclusion. In “Statement on the Assassination
of Martin Luther King, Jr.” Kennedy declares to the audience that they must make a choice of
dividing the country further or unite and find a common ground. This is stated in paragraph 4,
“Or we can make an effort, as Martin Luther King did, to understand, and to comprehend, and
replace that violence, that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to
understand compassion and love.” Although King stated his opinion on the subject, he did not
allow the readers to make their own inference about the situation, which interfered with them
having to think about it all in a deeper way and feeling empathy. Furthermore, “The Harvest
Gypsies” does a better job at presenting facts and allowing the reader to infer what the author is
trying to say, which leads to the reader feeling a greater amount of empathy.
In conclusion, empathy is understanding another person’s condition from their
perspective. By placing yourself in their shoes you are able to feel what they are feeling. In the
three selections, “The Harvest Gypsies” by John Steinbeck, “The Jungle” by Upton Sinclair, and
“Statement on the Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.” by Robert F. Kennedy, the authors
do an outstanding job at making the reader feel empathy toward the subject. Although they all do
a good job at this, “The Harvest Gypsies” presents it the best for the reason that the author
compares and contrasts 2 families, uses emotion to convince readers to feel a certain way, and
does not make his opinion on the issue clear.