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Establishing an Empathetic View in What Is the What

In: English and Literature

Submitted By mursalkhan
Words 2029
Pages 9
“Empathy is generally defined as the identification with, and understanding of another person’s situation, feelings and motives”. The idea of empathy and sympathy are comparable. There are some essential differences. Sympathy would understand another person, while empathy would interconnect two people. A good author plays on the concept of empathy, originating from the Greeks “Pathos”, which had their hero decease because of a human flaw. This made the audience empathetic towards the protagonist. “What is the What” written by Dave Egger, tried to play on the same emotion of Empathy. Achak at a young age is separated from his family during the Sudanese War when Arab soldiers also known as the murahaleen savagely riad his village, Marial Bai. Fleeing on foot to Ethiopia, with other boys like him, forming “The Lost Boys”. Finally they arrive to another refugee camp in Kakuma, becoming his home. Ultimately Valentino comes to America. The story is told parallel to succeeding hardship in the United States. “What is the What” provides imaginative empathy, playing on human trauma and the ability for altruistic motives, the moral obligation to empathize with remote and disparate people. Eggers’ novel represents African culture and memoirs as a way to converse with an audience. These memoirs and representative of culture to an American audience forces a limited, bias view. Egger channels Valentino rather than embellish him. He tends to use the protagonist as a mouthpiece to provide historical background forcing Valentino to relate his story in a series of direct addresses. Using these addresses he enables the audience to connect with Valentino, using a universally known concept: conversation. This leads Eggers to inaugurate any information he deems necessary to his audience. As the audience we sit and read the book and envisage Eggers information as candid. Contorting the American view, Eggers plays with the idea of human emotion, enabling us to be more empathetic towards the Sudanese. The moments in which Valentino seems most vulnerable, seem the most empathic moments. Such instances of exposed sullenness are rare. After all his misfortune, Valentino remains clinging onto hope. The reader is led to believe that Valentino's perseverance will pay off, playing off of human reverence of accomplishment after hardship. Finally after all the hardship Valentino is congratulated with a opportunity to lead a life just like us.
Unfortunately having an American Dream was not in Valentino’s destiny. Starting with a series of unfortunate events, Valentino gets robbed, beaten, his girlfriend gets killed. None of which does much to discourage him. He tries to strive towards prosperity, on no account giving up, in search of eradicating munificence from the world around him. Even when all hope seemed lost, Valentino kept striving towards his goal. "America, in its way, would provide a home for us: glass, waterfalls, bowls of bright oranges set upon clean tables." In depicting the story of Valentino he is asking Americans, young Americans, to begin taking responsibility for the human suffering they know existing in the world. The only downside would be that most people would read this book and donate money to charity, thinking they did their part, acting as a bridge to wealthy Americans conscience seeking to soothe their guilt.
In my interpretation of What is the What, I wouldn’t change the audience for which this book was originally written, but target them more just as Eggers. We as educated citizens of the world read novels and books to expand our knowledge and hopefully learn from authors. Yet when presented with information to change someone else’s life by giving up our own comfort, only a handful of people would agree to that circumstance. By reading What Is the What we are educated about the War in Sudan, but we choose not to act upon that matter, choosing our comfort over others. By changing the plot of the story I intend to raise awareness for the same audience and maybe attracting another type of less wealthy audience whom may play their part too. Originally the story is about the murahaleen slaughtering the Dinka for their land and women, changing the murahaleen to a virus would give a more relatable topic for death. Many Americans reading this book have never experienced their family members being slaughtered by wild Arabs on horses, but everyone in one way or another has experienced or seen a close one die due to an illness. By changing the cause of death I would hope to make a more empathic read towards this audience, like defined above, empathy goes a step further and says “I feel what you feel”. Eggers already plays on empathy, by comparing Valentino’s experience in Sudan parallel to the experiences faced in the United States today. Proving that even though a cause can be relatable it would not always be attention grabbing, by that I mean, the audience for this book are college students and anyone whose interest are in Sudanese autobiographies, basically not many. I want to add the concept of fiction to this novel, shedding it from the factual details which tend to bore many people. By adding a zombie virus to the plot, it captures the audience’s attention, making them less guilty about a third world country; Taking away this awkward barrier which hovers over the reader throughout the novel, picking at their conscious. It lightens the mood and makes way for the audience to grasp the actual message being delivered to them, instead of feeling guilty about not helping out on this cause. The addition of the zombie virus also expands the audience from college based to high school or middle school, adding action and adventure. Action and Adventure is known to be the best genre for all ages, for entertainment purposes. Conducting this story with a zombie virus yet leaving the underlying suffering in Sudan shifts the serious tone into a fable; which is a tale, most often told or written with a moral tagged on in the form of a proverb. Thus to convey a moral is the aim of most fables, and the tale is the vehicle by which this is done, providing both an illustration of and compelling argument for the moral. Enabling the reader to connect with the new What is the What story.
Here’s an Excerpt from What is the What: With Zombies: Do you want to know when I left that place forever, Micheal? The day was bright, the ceiling of the sky raised high. My father was gone, in Wau for business. This was only one week after we had returned to Marial Bai. Again I was feeding the fire when my mother looked up. She was boiling water and again I had brought kindling. I saw her eyes looking over my shoulder. Tell me, where is your mother, Micheal? Have you ever seen her terrified? No child should see this. It is the end of childhood, when you see your mothers face slacken, her yees dead. When she is defeated by simply seeing the threat approaching. When she does not believe she can save you. ---Oh my lord, she said. Her shoulder collapsed. She splashed hot water on my hand. I squealed for a moment but then I heard the rumbling. What is it? I asked. Come! She whispered. Her eyes darted around the coumpound.
Where are your sisters? I had not seen what my mother had seen. But there was the sound. A vibration from under our feet. I looked for my sisters, but I knew they were by the river. My brothers were grazing the cattle. Wherever they were either safe from the rumbling or had already been overtaken by it. Come she said again, and pulled me with her. We ran. I held her hand, but I was falling behind. She slowed her running and pulled me up by my arm. She ran, jostling me, finally arranging me over her shoulder. I held my breath and hoped she would stop. It was then, over her shoulder that I saw what she had seen. It was like a shadow made by a low cloud. The shadow moved quickly over the land. The rumbling was people. I saw them now, dead men, bringing the land into darkness. We slowed and my mother spoke. Where are you hiding? She breathed.
Come to the woods, said a womans voice.
I was placed on the ground.
Hide in the grass, the woman told us. --- from there we can run to palang. We crouched in the grass with the women, ancient and smelling of meat. I realized we were near my aunts home, on the way to the river. We were well hidden in the shade amid a dense thicket. From our hiding place we watched the storm overtake the town. All the dust. They limped, some dragged wheeled human parts behind them. I heard the scream of men behind us. Zombies burst through the grass to the right and left. They were coming from all sides, converging in the center of the town. This is how the Zombies took a town, Micheal. They encircles it and then squeezed all within. They were only twenty last time, the women said. There were easily two hundred, three hundred, or more now.
This is the end, my mother said. They mean to kill us all. Achak, I am so sorry. But we will not make it through this day. No, no, the woman scolded. They want the cattle. The cattle and the food. They they’re gone. We’ll stay here. At the moment, the screaming began. The sky broke open with screaming the sound of suffering came from every corner of the village.
Oh lord. Oh lord.
Now the woman was crying.
Shh! My mother said, grabbing for the womans hand and finally finding it. Now quieter she soothed the woman. ----Shhhh.
Two of these undead men slithered past. The second zombie man was riding backward, his head shifting left and right. ---- Arghhhhhhhhh he roared.
A dozen voices answered him. ---- Arghhhhhhhhh
A zombie bit into another man and tossed him onto the roof of the hospital. When I thought to look for her, I saw the zombies circling Amarth’s hut. Four zombies carrying six men. They guarded the hut from every side and then leapt on top. The roof smoldered first and then blackened. Zombies finally overtook it and leapt upward first, then crept down. screaming billowed. A figure emerged, a young man, his hand surrendering. Zombies lept and attacked the man until the mans chest burst red. He fell, and no one else left the hut. The screams began soon after.
---Achack
My mother was behind me. Her mouth was very close to my ear.
---Achak. Turn to me.
I looked into her eyes. It was so hard, Michael. She had no hope. She believed we would die that day. Her eyes had no light.
I wont be able to carry you fast enough. Do you understand?
I nodded.
So You’ll have to run. Yes? I know you’re fast.
I nodded. I believed that we could survive. That I could.
---But if you run with your mother, you’ll be seen. Do you agree? Your mother is very tall and the zombies will see her. Yes?
---Yes.
I ran as fast as I can to an abanded hut, looking out I heard a shot from a tree and a zombie, with dark skin than most of the zombies, fell forward, his head landing hard on the dirt. Quickly ten zombies surrounded the tree. A flurry of words, spitting with furry. They leapt onto the tree and a figure fell from a tree, landing heavily on his shoulder, dead. He wore the orange uniform of Manyok Bol militia. As the darkeness approached, many of the raiders left town, some carrying their abductees, others whatever they scavenged from their homes and market. But still hundreds were in the village, eating and resting as the last of the homes smoldered. There were none of my people visible; all had run or were eaten.
Bibliography:
1. Eggers, Dave. What Is the What. New York: Random House, 2007. Print.
2. Dictionary.com. Dictionary.com. Web. 11 May 2012. .…...

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