EXPANDING NARRATIVE EMPATHY Exploring “Dynamic” Empathy in The Left Hand of Darkness
Narrative empathy, the sharing of a feeling between a reader and characters, is often thought of as a 'static' phenomenon; either it is present, or not in a given story. Yet, on scrutiny, narrative empathy seems quite fluid, its connective strength ebbing and flowing throughout a story. This paper looks at three major factors involved in this process: immersion, empathy itself, and emotion, and how they relate to one another in forming the phenomenon: “Dynamic Narrative Empathy.” Once defined, the paper utilizes the theory to analyze Ursula K. Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness. The analysis focuses on the two main narrators and their relationship between one other and to the readers. This approach, while unusual for this novel, is very fruitful in explaining why character ambiguities develop and how the novel affects readers to such a degree that it influence their actual world thinking. It is hoped that Le Guin scholars will not only find this approach refreshing and insightful, but find dynamic narrative empathy to be a useful narratological tool when applied to any novel or story with dynamic reader/ character relationships present.