This study has examined, first of all, the meaning of empathy in relationto the communications with — and the understanding of — the othersincluding people and the text. To be more exact, this paper is aimed atfiguring out the meaning of empathy through the situation of children’spicturebook reading, and more concretely, through the perspective ofunderstanding the text and through the viewpoint of understanding the self,the others and the world.
In order to carry out the task, this study has selected 31 picturebooks thatdeal with either such social issues as environmental protection, poverty, war,peer rejection, racial discrimination and child labor or universal human issuessuch as self-respect, honesty, and friendship. It has also selected 30six-grader elementary school students, let them read the books and writebook reports, and then analyzed the reviews from the perspective of empathy.
First of all, the result shows that child readers turned out to feel moreeasily emphatic with the sentiments of the characters based on either theirown experiences or the similarity of the text. This tells us that the size andthe diversity of the reader’s experiences are closely related to the possibilityof empathy. Second, the children could understand the pains of the characters- even though they had not experienced them yet - by playing those characters’ roles through imagination when it came to some issues, like war,that they would not otherwise have easily felt empathy with. This shows thatempathy is not only possible to those readers who would feel the sense ofidentity based on their own experiences. In other words, child readers areunderstood as having been equipped with the capability to understand andfeel empathy with even the unfamiliar characters through the roleperformance of swapping places with them. This result is meaningful in thatreaders’ understanding of the text does not remain in the endless replay ofthe self based on their own experiences but could be expanded further.
Reversely, this shows that the text could help the children feel empathyfurther by offering them a variety of indirect experiences. Third, child readersshowed their empathy toward the life of the characters based on their beliefin the universal value of mankind, which means that the degree of theirempathy is largely determined by that of their own value orientation. Thebelief in the universal value of mankind is thought to help the children understand the characters by putting them into such unfamiliar situations aspoverty or war and by inducing them to change their roles with thecharacters. Besides, the empathy of child readers with the unfamiliarsituations did not remain in the unconditional acceptance of the reality of thetext as the complete world but became deeper having been boosted bycritical reading. Fourth, child readers were able to get a chance to understandthemselves better and to affirm the others by relocating themselves in anotherreality of the text, and were able to examine the potential for creating abetter society. Thus, this study has found out that empathy . though itstarts from the understanding of the characters who are dealing with eventsin the text . could eventually become into a locomotive power for creatinga better society through the process of understanding the readers outside the text, the others, and finally the world itself.