On Teaching Empathy Through Fiction
In 2016, the Norwegian government announced that public health and life mastery would be an overarching topic in all the subjects in high schools. Empathy may predict mental health issues, and fiction can encourage empathy. This article illustrates narrative empathy through the Norwegian novel Begynnelser (Beginnings) (2017) by Carl Frode Tiller. The aim is, to give a theoretical account of combined methods and insights from literary studies and narrative medicine in order to investigate how narrative empathy can emphasize mental health and life mastery in Norwegian literature when taught in high school. The article draws upon the thoughts of Bloom, Nussbaum, van Lissa et al. and Bryant on empathy and its meaning, Suzanne Keen’s theory of narrative empathy and pedagogical perspectives from the field of narrative medicine, represented by Rita Charon. Begynnelser connects to the concept of life mastery and through a close reading of the novel in a sociocultural context, students can learn to recognize important details in the text. Character identification and narrative situation are two main techniques in narrative empathy and in the novel by Tiller. This article reflects upon, how students can identify with the main character, in terms of both categorical and situational empathy, and how the narrative situation can show the reader why the character’s life unfolded as it did. The teacher must adjust the texts and the tasks to the particular group of students, and remember that teaching should not be a therapy session.
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