Sympathetic Character in Stories and Plays

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Updated: May 29, 2021
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Sympathetic Character in Stories and Plays essay

“In many stories and plays, when a character is portrayed as “sympathetic” one means that the audience shares the fortunes and misfortunes of that character. One can choose if the character is worthy or unworthy of sympathy. A story identifies a character as worthy or unworthy of sympathy by defining the characters role in the story or play. The character can be a hero with their struggles and the hope for his success. Another being the rival or enemy of a sympathetic character and hoping or his downfall or failure.

In the play “King Lear” Lear was portrayed as an arrogant, vain, and selfish ruler. He began with dividing the kingdom and giving it to his daughters and also refused his kingship but still wanted to be treated like a king which he was no longer one. Deciding to divide up the kingdom was one of the biggest mistakes he has done which would lead to a catastrophe. When Lear asks his three daughters “Which of you shall we say doth love us most?” (Act I Scene I). Cordelia refused to show her love for her father since she loves her father as equally as her sisters would love their father. He decided to banish Cordelia because of how he believes that she has “betrayed” her father. Due to this act of selfishness we as the audience would not feel any sympathy toward Lear since he was being unreasonable just because one of his daughters who values her relationship with him more than a small part of the kingdom. As the play progresses, Lear is betrayed by his two daughters, Goneril and Reagan, which they take advantage of their father and revealed that they do not truly love their father. They dismiss his soldiers and treated him with little to no respect as a king or a father. Even Goneril’s servant Oswald does not treat him with respect which the audiences feelings toward Lear would start to change. When Lear leaves the kingdom during a midst of a storm, we can see how Lear’s character is changing and able to see the humanity in Lear. When Lear said “ My wits begin to turn…. I have one part in my heart that’s sorry yet for thee.” (Act III scene II) we begin to see that Lear is worthy of Sympathy and that he is learning from the mistakes and misery he has caused. This began to reveal how he transitioned from a ruthless king to a true king. By the end of the play when he was holding the dead Cordelia in his arms he has realized his mistake for banishing his daughter and the utter pity for the struggling old man. Ultimately, King Lear is worthy of sympathy and that he is just a struggling and grieving father who made many mistakes throughout the course of the play.

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In “King Lear” Gloucester is another character that is one of the most sympathetic character. When Gloucester was introduced into the play, he was similar to King Lear like he was like. A reflection of Lear. The first thing we learn about Gloucester in the beginning of the play is that he has two sons which one is his bastard son Edmund and the other being his legitimate son Edgar. Edmund forges a letter in which Edgar appears to plot the death of their father and begins to lie to his father so that Gloucester would end up thinking his legitimate son is out to kill him to quicken the inheritance of his father’s wealth and lands. As the play progresses, Gloucester eventually banishes Edgar. This act of ignorance doesn’t deserve sympathy from the audience yet because this shows how he doesn’t have good judgement. When Lear was caught in the spiderweb of court politics and is accused of helping Lear escape, he was blinded by Cornwall and Regan . While he was in great pain, Regan tells him that Edmund was actually conspiring against him which during this scene we can feel some sympathy toward Gloucester because he punished the wrong son. What made Gloucester the most sympathetic was when he attempted to suicide. In Shakespeare’s audience, attempting to suicide is unacceptable and this makes him a huge sinner. However, to the modern audience, Gloucester attempting suicide due to the pain and agony he has gone through he would be very sympathetic throughout the play.

In the novel, Things Fall Apart, written by Chinua Achebe, Okonkwo is a sympathetic and unsympathetic character. When Okonkwo was first introduced he was a strong, brave, and prideful character that doesn’t show any signs of weakness. Haunted by his weak, kind-hearted, and failure of a father, Okonkwo refuses to follow his father’s footsteps. When he defeated Amalinze the Cat he became famous and becomes the villages leader. Due to being such a strong character, Okonkwo he is not worthy of sympathy since he does not show any signs of weakness, beats the weak, and does not show any signs of love towards another. Furthermore, he is very violent and impulsive which he even beats his family if they showed any signs of weakness. For example, he was very violent and hostile towards Nwoye which in the end he converts to Christianity. Nwoye was still a child and is still developing but due to the physical violence from his father he viewed his father as this “evil spirit”. On page 134, Nwoye “was happy to leave his father” which as we can see Okonkwo treated his son very badly. Even though Okonkwo is a violent and hostile person, in the end we can see that he does deserve sympathy because as the novel progresses you can see that his life is slowly deteriorating. For example, when he accidentally killed one of his clansmen, he was exiled for seven years which made him lose everything he had. Everything was stripped away from him and when he returned to his tribe members were converted into Christianity because of the white men that came. Ultimately, this has driven him to commit suicide by hanging himself. Due to committing suicide, Okonkwo deserves to be sympathized because despite him being a cruel person, he is only doing this to protect and provide for his family. He wanted to save the traditions of his tribe and better himself so he won’t end up like his father.

In “ Things Fall Apart” Nwoye is another character that is worthy of sympathy. As a child, Nwoye is kind-hearted and sensitive which these qualities are disliked by his father due to him resembling Okonkwo’s father. When Ikemefuna entered into his life he became more masculine and was more respected by his father. Ikemefuna was more like a brother and father figured toward Nwoye and was providing him with the role of a strong character. Nwoye becomes a strong character which in this state he isn’t worthy of sympathy. After the death of Ikemefuna, Nwoye grows further away from his father and loses respect toward him. The unjust murder of his role model has devastated him which he starts to lose the masculinity and begins to revert into the gentle nature he once was. As the story progresses, you can see that Nwoye drifted apart from his father and he was unable to forgive his father for what he has done. Due to the murder of Ikemefuna, Nwoye converted into Christianity. We can see that Nwoye is becoming more worthy of sympathy because when he converted into a Christian he was not only abandoning his beliefs but also abandoning his father. Losing the role model he had was the greatest mistake and the two shared a bond together which would earn more respect for his father but this is the ultimate downfall in the novel.

Ultimately, all these characters the play and novel are worthy of sympathy. King Lear, the tragic hero deserves sympathy because of his downfall and failures as a King. He failed to rule his kingdom and exiles his most loving daughter. Gloucester deserves sympathy due to the pain and agony that happened throughout the play. He wanted to end his life because of his sons betrayal and the how he also exiled his son Edgar in which he did not want to kill his father. In “Things Fall Apart”, we can see that Okwonko deserves sympathy because of how despite that he was a violent and crude person, he was trying to protect his family and his tradition’s. Nwoye also is worthy of sympathy since he lost one of his closest idol and converts to Christianity because of the abusive father he had. All in all, these characters are the perfect examples of how sympathy can be expressed in a play or novel.”

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Sympathetic Character in Stories and Plays. (2021, May 29). Retrieved from