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Grade 6-8Grade 6-8

Empathy for Characters – Activity to develop empathy through novel characters

Recommended Grades:
Difficulty Level:
Content Type:

Number of Participants: Solo

Setting (Indoor / Outdoor): Any

Estimate Execution Time: 1-5 Days

This would help students to be more empathetic and less judgmental towards people in real life by understanding the characters in a novel in their particular context and situation. Students would start thinking beyond their immediate feelings about characters and would start analysing and understanding the situations in the novel. The real life impact would be that they would stop judging people around them including their friends and parents.

They would start understanding people and their situations. For eg:- If a student finds one of his friend to be rude on a particular day, instead of starting a fight or breaking friendship with him, he would try to understand his situation and try to help him out. For eg:- The reason for the rude behaviour of the friend could be that he is not getting good grades or there is some family issue which is disturbing him or he might be having a stomach ache.

a novel, pen and notebook

  1. Ask children to read a novel that is of interest to them.
  2. While reading the novel they need to keep the following things in mind:
    • The context of the novel- The time period, culture, the situation described, value system, etc..
    • Make a list of all the characters and write positives as well as the shortcomings of each character.
    • Find out various themes and issues involved and make notes of the same.
    • Finally, write short notes on what you learnt from the novel and writing style of the writer and then critically analyse the novel.
  3. They need to think:
    • Can a particular character be perfect and the other worthless?
    • Does the hero not have any shortcomings?
    • Is there a soft corner in the villain’s heart?
    • Is there a reason behind the ‘antagonist’ becoming a villain?
    • What would have happened if the situations were different?
    • Could he/she be transformed? Likewise, do characters have clear demarcation of who is in the positive and who is in the negative light. Aren’t there any shades of gray?
    • Let’s say, for example, Draco Malfoy in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series is portrayed as an antagonist. He is always up to some mischief to put Harry and his friends into trouble. But, he hesitates and is finally unable to kill his weak and wand-less Head-master Dumbledore. This shows that there was a soft corner in his heart.
  4. If they find a character loathsome, imagine themselves in his/her position and think what they would have done. For eg:- In Khaled Husseini’s novel ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’, if a child or a teen reads it, he/she may hate the character of Mariam’s mother-Nana. This is because she imposes restrictions on her and does not let her go and meet her father in Herat. Also, she does not allow formal education for her. She hits Mariam’s cousins with stones. However, if we contemplate deeper, we realise that she is abandoned by both her father and Mariam’s father Jalil (who is a rich man in whose house Nana worked as a maid). So, if we see from an empathetic perspective we can understand her situation and do not blame her for her actions.
  5. Also, ask another question to themselves “Was the character a Static, Dynamic or Round character? For eg:-In Anita Desai’s novel- ‘In Custody’ the main protagonist Deven does not share a good relation with his son and also dominates his wife. Also, he lets himself easily be dominated by his friend ‘Murad’. However, towards the end of the novel he changes into a more responsible as well as sensitive man, who decides to take his responsibilities towards his family more seriously. He also takes a stand against his dominating friend ‘Murad’.
  6. Find someone else who has also read the same book and discuss their findings with them.

The activity can be used to teach English Language, Civic Literacy, and History.

Concepts involved:
Empathy – Empathy is basically, understanding a person’s situation by imagining oneself in his/her shoes. It helps us to understand and share the feelings of others. This helps us to be more compassionate towards our fellow human beings.

Novel reading – Novel reading is a habit considered both as a hobby as well as an intellectual prowess. It not only tells a story. The fact is that the story is based in a particular context, time period, region etc… Unlike a history book, it does not state facts, but explains the situation from the point of view of the characters.

Types of Characters in a novel
– The Protagonist- This is the main character/hero around whom the story revolves.
– Antagonist – This is the villain or the character opposing the main character.
– Confidante character- This is the character whom the protagonist trusts the most and he/she supports the development of the main character.
– Stock characters- They are stereotypical characters. They just come and go without being noticed by the reader much.
– Static character- These characters are flat characters. They remain the same i.e they do not undergo any transformation and do not have a wide range of emotions.
– Changing or dynamic character- This character develops and undergoes change in the story. He/ she can change for the better or worse. These characters have a whole range of emotions attached to them and are unpredictable.
– Round Character- This character develops and changes according to the situation. We don’t know the exact nature of this character, because this character itself learns a lot as the story goes on. This is the most interesting character and also most relatable. This is because this character undergoes a lot of transformation like any human being who learns from the lessons taught to him/her by life. The character towards the end of the novel is a completely changed character.

Some of the recommended books

1) Harry Potter series- J K Rowling
2) ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’ – Khaled Husseini

3) God of Small Things- Arundhati Roy
4) In Custody- Anita Desai
5) Macbeth- Shakespeare
6) Jaya (Mahabharata)- Devdutt Pattanaik

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Written by Sheetal Mahajan

Book lover, loves writing, avid reader and most importantly a learner...student for life.

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