Sympathy as self-discovery: the significance of caring for others in "Betrayals"

    Tutkimustuotos: ArtikkelijulkaisuArtikkeliTieteellinenvertaisarvioitu


    In “Betrayals”, the first of four novellas in Four Ways to Forgiveness, Ursula Le Guin provides a compelling portrayal of the consequences of indifference, and the healing powers of sympathetic caring. In this essay, I will examine the ways in which she communicates these ideas, especially as they are represented by the dynamics of the relationship between the two aging characters that form the heart of the narrative.

    Le Guin sees caring as a continuously developing process by which we learn to give attention to, and to receive attention from, others. We see this particularly in Le Guin’s depiction of Yoss, a character who in a sense finds herself, as well as a compelling reason to live, by caring for another. Indeed, Yoss embodies a way of approaching others, and her observations throughout the narrative move us, as readers, through continually revised assessments of, and feelings toward, the disgraced leader Abberkam. For his part, Abberkam, initially “indifferent to his own plight or hers,” discovers his own concern for Yoss, and ultimately is able to give of himself to the extent that he becomes both emotionally and physically vulnerable. Through these actions, we come to recognize that he is able to redeem himself only through the care that he extends to Yoss, and our initial contempt for him is gradually replaced by feelings of concern and tenderness. I will show that this conversion of our feelings toward him, and the deepening of our feelings toward Yoss, grow out of the narrative’s structure of character disclosure, which produces, within limited parameters, somewhat predictable patterns of reader response.

    In support of this claim, I will review the responses of nearly 200 adolescents to surveys that I conducted last year. In those surveys, students answered questions regarding their feelings toward “unsympathetic” characters in two short works of fiction. While “Betrayals”, due to its length, was not one of the stories that I used for these tests, I believe that it possesses a structure of character disclosure that is similar to the works that were tested. For this reason, I contend that “Betrayals”, by progressively allowing us to discover and appreciate Abberkam, provides an emotional opening for the reader through its elicitation of unexpected sympathy. In the case of this novella, such sympathy depends largely upon the response generated by the unfolding “complementarity” between the two characters, and especially by their recognition of the need to care for, and be cared for.
    TilaJulkaistu - 2008
    OKM-julkaisutyyppiA1 Alkuperäisartikkeli tieteellisessä aikakauslehdessä, vertaisarvioitu


    • 612 Kielitieteet, kirjallisuus
    • pedagogiikka
    • kirjallisuudentutkimus
    • sympatia
    • empatia
    • tunteet
    • narratologia

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