How do authors elicit sympathy for their characters, specifically in All Quiet on the Western Front?

As seen in All Quiet on the Western Front, authors elicit sympathy for their characters by placing them in difficult and painful situations, which elicits pity, and by using detail to make their psychology convincing and relatable, which turns pity to sympathy.

Expert Answers

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The word “sympathy” comes from the Greek words “sum” (with) and “patheia” (suffering), so it means that one suffers with the character. The word “compassion” derives from the same two words in Latin. The difference between sympathy and pity, therefore, lies in the reader’s identification with the character. Pity can be aroused simply by placing the character in a pitiable situation, but sympathy will only follow if the reader cares about the character and also begins to understand their psychology.

In All Quiet on the Western Front, the characters are introduced as they are enjoying a brief respite from danger, but it is clear that their normal situation is very difficult indeed. However, besides this acknowledgement that their lives are far from enviable, they are carefully differentiated with small details as soon as they are introduced. Albert Kropp, for instance, is “the clearest thinker among us and therefore only a lance-corporal.” Müller “still carries his school textbooks with him, dreams of examinations, and during a bombardment mutters propositions in physics.” Some readers will immediately identify with these characteristics. When, for instance, Kropp is wounded and has to have his leg amputated, any reader who has ever felt that their own intelligence or thoughtfulness has not brought the rewards it deserves will already identify with him to some extent. This initial feeling of sympathy will be increased by adversity and suffering.

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