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Ancient Greeks taught and reinforced compassion within the society through drama. Today, compassion, a result of inspired empathy has taken a new turn. People do not see it as a moral obligation anymore and the acts shown of compassion are due to other driving forces and expectations and not humanity. In Barbara Ascher's essay 'On Compassion' and Peter Singer's 'Singers solution to world poverty', compassion to help those suffering is analyzed and the society's opinion criticized. Singer criticizes the indifferent attitude of the rich to the suffering of the poor. Ascher on the other hand questions the motives behind the compassion acts of compassion shown to those suffering. Both writers through different characters, styles and settings explore compassion in the face of human suffering.
Although both Singer and Ascher delve into the theme of compassion in face human suffering, their perspectives differ. Singer sees compassion as a moral obligation of the rich to the poor. He is a critic and strongly feels that lack of compassion to the poor is ethically wrong as the results of these are negative '...the Americans failure to donate money is that one more kid dies on the street...raising a serious moral issue' (par 5). Ascher on the other hand takes a cynical perspective and questions the real motivation of assisting those suffering. For example: 'Was it fear or compassion that motivated the gift?'; 'I think the mayor's notation is humane, but I fear it is something else as well' (36-37). Both agree that compassion is difficult to evoke in human beings. 'Raw humanity offends our sensibilities' (Ascher 37); 'Human nature just isn't sufficiently altruistic to make it plausible that many people will sacrifice so much for strangers' (Singer par.22).
The theme of compassion in face of human suffering is shown clearly by Singer and Ascher using different styles. Singer uses dialogue to emphasize on the theme and persuade the reader on the moral of compassion. For example, 'Now, you too....' 'If you still think...' (par 8-9). He also uses symbolism to show different characters, their traits and views on compassion. He uses Bob to symbolize all the rich people in America and the malnourished child to symbolize all the poor people in developing countries. Ascher's observation and description of events and characters show the characters point of view on compassion, and her own opinion. Her description of the reaction of the lady with a baby shows the general opinion of people regarding the poor. Both writers use anecdotes to elaborate their points and further elaborate compassion in face of human suffering. Singer tells the story of Bob, the helpless child and the Buggatti (par 6) while Ascher tells of the encounter on the street corner and the moment in the café (36).
Characterization sets forth a series of events that enhance the plot and the theme of literature work. In these two essays, the writers have used character traits, actions, reactions and interactions to do so. Singer uses specific characters like Bob to show the stance of the rich on compassion. Bobs action of choosing the car over the child's life reflects the opinions and traits of the rich. They are perceived as selfish, uncaring and heartless thus feel no compulsions towards helping the poor. In 'On Compassion', the man with the button less shirt from the description depicts a hopeless, helpless man through his stare at the child drives the mother of the child towards giving him a dollar, a compassion act not clear whether genuine or not. The old man in the café shop is quite, dirty with a sense of hopelessness drives the moody French woman to giving him something to eat. These direct interactions of characters make it easier for an act of compassion.
Another important element that the writers have used in their works to illuminate the theme is setting. Ascher draws her examples from the life in the New York City. She briefly describes scenes; the encounter at the street corner and the moment in the café, to elaborate on the feelings of characters and emphasize the theme of compassion in face of human suffering (36-37). Singer's setting is the general American society. He critically analyses the giving and spending traits of Americans. This gives the character traits and brings out how the characters, Americans, feel about compassion. He then goes ahead and gives the ideal setting which starkly exposes lack of empathy thus compassion to human suffering.
In conclusion, both singer and Ascher have cleverly used elements of non-fiction literature: characterization, style and setting to delve into the theme of compassion in face of human suffering. These elements have also shown different society perspectives on compassion. The elements have also helped in plot development of both essays making them interesting and comprehensive. The writers have questioned, analyzed and criticized the society, characters and the perception of compassion in face of human suffering to give a fresh perspective to the reader.