Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy begins Anna Karenina with this famous sentence: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” With this statement, Tolstoy implies that happy families are not great subjects for literature because there is no or little struggle in the home.
“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy
Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy begins Anna Karenina with this famous sentence: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” With this statement, Tolstoy implies that happy families are not great subjects for literature because there is no or little struggle in the home. They’re boring. Unhappy families, by contrast, are often good subjects for literature because they are atypical: the characters and their problems are particular and unique.
The Boone family in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is obviously not happy, and one factor that contributes to this is that Christopher has limited empathy and his parents also fail, on occasion, to empathize. In your essay, consider the significance of both “theory of mind” (or “mindblindness”) and its opposite—empathy— in the novel. As you organize your ideas, consider the whole arc of the narrative—from the early chapters through to its conclusion.
“Theory of Mind” or mindblindness (a term coined by autism researcher Simon Baron-Cohen) is an inability to attribute the mental states of other people, such as their “thoughts, desires, knowledge, and intentions.”
Empathy is “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.”
This essay counts for 30% of your final grade.
1. Getting Started. As we’ve done before, do not start with an introduction. Do not try to come up with a thesis before you write. Defining a thesis before you start to draft an essay is a sure-fire way to lock yourself into an argument that is simple, obvious, and boring for both the writer and reader.
2. Observation and Analysis. Working with details from the literary text write two or more pages that explore how the parents demonstrate a lack of empathy.
3. Questions. On the final page of your draft, write a paragraph in which you think about the significance of empathy in the novel. What should you examine more closely? What questions and counterarguments do you still need to address?
As you write, assume that your readers have read the text. But keep in mind that they may not recall the specific details you rely on to make your argument. So, don’t summarize large sections (especially in the intro) unless necessary. Compose an argument that makes a dynamic argument. An argument in which a claim (and supporting evidence) leads logically to the next claim (and evidence) and so on. Each paragraph moves your ideas forward.