According to Edmund Burke, sympathy consisted of being “put into the place of another man, and affected in many respects as he is affected” (41). It involves the sympathizer in the affected person’s affairs/misfortunes that resonates so deeply within the sympathizer that he/she feels as though he/she can relate to some extent. Incidents of tragedy, such as a car accident, typically evoke this emotion because humans, Burke argues, find “delight… in the real misfortunes and pains of others” (42), and according to Burke, delight and sympathy go hand-in-hand. An attractive force towards tragedy and misfortune are apparent in how humans “[do] not… shun such objects, if on the contrary [induce] us to approach them [and] make us dwell upon them” (42). Since humans are naturally drawn to things which internally evoke a sense of delight or pleasure, it is these emotions that are at the root of our attraction to tragedy and misfortune. Burke rationalizes this seeming contradiction by stating how terror, an emotion associated with experiencing tragedy and misfortune at some level, “is a passion which always produces delight when it does not press too close, and pity is a passion accompanied with pleasure, because it arises from love and social affection” (42). Imagine watching a car accident unfold ahead of you on the road, and you manage to avoid it all. As you drive past, it is natural to check it out and absorb the whole situation. You likely feel a sense of delight that it was not you who was involved in such tragedy and misfortune, yet you feel pity for the people involved in the accident and hope that they are all right. This is where you sympathize with the affected people, where, as previously stated, you put yourself into the place of the affected man. Here is where the ties between being drawn to tragedy and misfortune and developing a sense of sympathy are formed.

In Frankenstein, a particular passage stood out with respect to Burke’s theory of sympathy: line 7 on page 94 through line 23 on page 95 (the very end of Chapter 10). Here, the creature, actively trying to get his creator, Frankenstein, to see him in a friendlier light, tries to make it clear to his creator that he “was benevolent [and his] soul glowed with love and humanity” (94). To humanize himself to Frankenstein– a hard thing to do, what with his grotesque appearance and Frankenstein’s firmly ingrained convictions regarding the creature’s behavior and intentions– he wants to emphasize the goodness of his soul. Of course, he also makes it a point to describe how humans have corrupted his positive spirit due to the way they “spurn and hate” (94) him. The hate is so universal that he feels as though the “bleak skies… are kinder to [him] than [Frankenstein’s] fellow-beings” (94). Here he essentially states that something inanimate like the sky (and a bleak one, at that) has a greater capacity of compassion than humans, which speaks of how harshly he is being treated. Such descriptions of his hardships are to evoke the sympathy of Frankenstein, who while delighted at the creature’s misery based on such combative statements as: “Cursed be the day, abhorred devil, in which you first saw light!” (94), does grudgingly capitulate by the end: “I did not answer him, but… I weighed the various arguments that he had used, and determined to at least listen to his tale… partly urged by curiosity, and compassion” (95). He gave in based on the creature’s heart-wrenching, tragic tale, which fostered the curiosity and compassion that drove him to at least give the creature a shot at explaining himself further– akin to someone seeing a car accident on the side of the road and, while delighted that it is not him/her, still slows down to check it out due to curiosity and compassion.

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