Emotions and Identification
Connections Between Readers and Fiction
KEITH OATLEY & MITRA GHOLAMAIN
Much is known about what connects people to each other. There are many kinds of connections -- attachment, love, friendship, shared purpose, competition -- for humans are members of the most social of vertebrate species. But what connects people to the texts of fiction?
In this chapter we suggest that the links that easily form between reader and story throw light both on the properties of narrative and on human psychology. We concentrate mainly on readers and texts, but some of our discussion also concerns the theater and the cinema.
In order to make our argument about the connection of readers to fiction, we need first to vote in a debate. The debate is about the nature of fiction: is fiction an imitation of life?
In his most influential piece of literary criticism, "The Art of Fiction" ( 1884), Henry James argued that a novel is "a direct impression of life" (398). With this claim, James added a gloss to that venerable work of literary criticism, the Poetics, in which Aristotle proposed that fictional narrative is based on "mimesis." This term has generally been translated into English as "representation" (the term used by James), or "imitation," or "copying." James was arguing against the idea that fiction is just make-believe. Instead, he asserted,