Honors Theses and Capstones

Date of Award

Spring 2022

Project Type

Senior Honors Thesis

College or School




Program or Major

Philosophy and Sustainability

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts

First Advisor

Charlotte Witt

Second Advisor

Nicholas Smith

Third Advisor

Ruth Sample


I argue in this thesis that literary fiction enhances our ability to sympathize with others as a result of observing—and thereby coming to feel for—the perspectives of the characters by engaging in mental perspective-taking. As a result, we become able to sympathize with an array of individuals whose experiences are unlike our own, and which we may never understand otherwise. I argue that the ability to sympathize with others is valuable for the sake of being a morally good person, and for having an overall good character. This has value in and of itself, particularly from an Aristotelian perspective. I further argue that literary fiction can promote certain kinds of political action and motivation in real-life contexts by bridging important topics and issues—especially relating to social justice and injustice—with the literary imagination. This results from witnessing the experiences of characters in novels who have endured hardships similar to those that individuals or groups face in the world today.

My argument is supported, in part, by exploring works of literary fiction that I believe exemplify my argument. Beloved by Toni Morrison is one such novel. I also explore The Color Purple by Alice Walker. Rather than focus on The Color Purple as a work of literary fiction alone, I contrast the experience of reading the novel with watching its film adaptation. The Color Purple is written in a way where the reader feels connected to its characters and is welcomed into their perspectives and mind frames. This can translate into motivation by the reader to fight against the sorts of injustices the characters face in real-life contexts. On the whole, I wish to show that reading literary fiction enhances our ability to sympathize with others and, as such, contributes towards becoming an overall better person. The literary imagination not only tunes the reader into the lives of the characters, but also translates into a better understanding of the people and world around us. By observing the depiction of characters’ experiences through mental perspective-taking, we gain a generous view of a wide array of individuals and subsequently develop sympathy for them as we understand what it must be like to be in that situation or a situation like it. This has valuable effects that reach beyond the text, which I explore in my thesis.