Does reading help us to better understand others?

In our everyday live, it can sometimes be hard to have empathy for others. In this article we will explore how novels help us to better understand and empathise with other people.


Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of other people. We can only have empathy for someone if we look at things from their point of view. When we put ourselves in their place, we can truly understand their experiences and what they are feeling.


Often, we don’t get the chance to see things from someone else’s perspective.
When we talk to people, they don’t always give us enough information for us to really understand them. They often don’t want to share everything with us. For example, if your friend is sad, they may not tell you what they are really feeling or thinking. Because of this, we can’t feel empathy for them.

We are also told a lot of information in an impersonal way. This means that the person telling us this information is not talking with emotion. When we get information about something in this way, it doesn’t have an effect on how we feel. As such, we feel no empathy for the thing which is described to us.


In novels, we get an unrestricted view of a character’s thoughts and emotions. In most novels, the author describes every detail about what a character is feeling. They explore the reason why a character is feeling this way. When we get all this information, it is as if we are actually inside the character’s head. As a result, we can truly understand the character and their emotions.

When we read novels, we are also able to follow a character’s journey from start to finish. Because of this, we are aware of everything a character has experienced. When we know about someone’s background, we can better appreciate why they may be feeling a certain way.


Imagine you are told there has been a theft in a nearby village. This information doesn’t really affect you personally. You remain distant from the event and the people involved. But imagine if someone told you about who the victims were and their life story. If they described to you the sadness and fright felt by these people after the theft had happened. If they described the experience of being in that situation; what you could see and what you could hear. You can suddenly imagine yourself in that situation. You suddenly understand what these people must have been feeling and what they went through.

This understanding is empathy. Authors help us to see things from the point of view of others. We are not always able to do this in our everyday lives. Because of this, through novels, we are given the chance to understand other people more easily.



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