This first year at university has been an eventful and wholly unexpected experience. From attending my university lectures to going to this year’s Coordinated Arts Program Conference (CAPCON), I’ve been experiencing academia in ways I’ve thoroughly enjoyed. CAPCON was a definite stand out, as it united many individuals who share a common intelligence and passion for our separate streams and studies. Of all of the discussions that were had, several held my attention. Aside from the ones that I’ve previously seen in my own Arts Studies 100 course and the beginning discussion entitled “The Bending of the Traditional Narrative”, one stood out from my friend who is in the Political Science, Philosophy and Economics (PPE) stream in CAP.
Natalie Cappe, a first year student at the University of British Columbia, is a dear friend to me and I only just discovered several days ago that she was part of CAP. An advocate for English literature and all things literary, she presented on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and the use of sympathy and empathy in the story. Titled Unmasking the Monster, it sought to discover how sympathetic understanding cultivates relationships in the novel and in society.
Her presentation consisted of the audience closing their eyes and hearing a situation as it related to an unknown individual that Cappe described. Furthermore, as the description grew greater and more in depth, she asked us to open our eyes to reveal a photograph of a homeless man. Later, Cappe asked the question, “Who and what deserves our sympathy?”. Given the last exercise, the question definitely begged an answer. Scholars that Cappe used to research cited that it is only through repeated effort and an active accommodation of differences that we allow ourselves to feel sympathy for other individuals. This hung in my mind as I slowly realized that it is in fact true given that we all participate in some form of effort and accommodation when it comes to understanding another individual, be it a family member or even a criminal on trial.
In order to accurately discuss the novel as it relates to sympathy, Cappe forwent the traditional definition of sympathy in favor of a research specific definition. She defined sympathy as “An instinctive action that adopts the unique perspective of the other and enables us to cultivate relationships” (Cappe). Accurate and descriptive, it opened the floodgates to another question that was asked in relation to the Creature in Frankenstein; why are we unable to sympathize with this creature? Simply put, by Cappe’s definition it requires the sympathizer to be put in a similar situation as the victim and also requires urgency for the like being involved. Like being, is defined again by Cappe as an individual who shares the same background as ourselves. Given this, we are unable to sympathize directly with the Creature due to our inability to find ourselves in a similar situation and aren’t entirely like beings. The Creature possesses consciousness and a conscience but isn’t a human being which is why we view him as a monster.
Cappe’s presentation brought together a core human trait and English literature in a very brilliant way that allowed for a greater discussion about dehumanization, empathy and who we are as human beings that will only inspire greater conversation as her scholarship remains in existence. Very brilliant job Natalie, I’m very proud to have listened and reported on your thoroughly well researched project.