Jonathan Mao's Understanding Essay

Jonathan Mao's Understanding Essay

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Empathy is a distinctly human trait. The ability to empathize with other individuals is vital for myriad professionals. In particular, patients seek empathy from doctors. In Understanding, Jonathan Mao presents the stories of three fictitious patients and their interactions with one doctor. Mao’s extensive use of imagery and descriptive language, along with his use of a second-person perspective, is effective in making readers empathize with each patient and assume the role of the doctor.
Mao’s abundant use of imagery coupled with personification strongly appeals to readers’ emotions. In the first stanza, the doctor examines Diego Hidalgo: “The heart whispers/ Lub-dub-ta, lub-dub-ta./ The lungs utter/ Huff-puff, huff-puff” [1]. The onomatopoeia phrases “lub-dub-ta” and “huff-puff” used to describe the sound of Hidalgo’s heart and lungs, respectively, enhance the connection between Hidalgo’s and readers’ physical conditions. Thus, readers can relate and empathize with Hidalgo’s current condition. In the second stanza, Roseanne Brown’s condition puzzles the doctor: “The brain responds/ With rushes of hormones./ The arteries convey/ A struggle with pressure” [1]. Readers can infer that high blood pressure is one facet of her ailment. Readers can empathize with Brown’s condition through the personification of her brain and arteries. In the third stanza, Toroshi Tanaka’s condition is critical: “The limbs shout/ With painful flailing./ The eyes cry out/ With ruby tears./ The liver clamors/ As the organ crumbles” [1]. The dramatic visual description of Tanaka’s condition as highlighted by his flailing limbs and tearing eyes makes readers establish an emotional connection with Tanaka. The expressive description of the patients’ conditio...


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...en accounts of fictional characters’ interactions with one doctor. The relatability of the poem due to its theme of empathy and its focus on doctor-patient interactions strengthens the poem’s literary impact.
The use of imagery with personification, the logical and repeated structure, and the theme of empathy make the poem rhetorically effective. The descriptions of the patients’ conditions evoke strong mental images and appeal to emotions. Presenting the stories of the patients’ conditions in increasing order of severity, maintaining a repeated structure of stanzas, and confining actions to their own lines add to the poem’s rhetorical strength. Moreover, the poem’s relatable theme of empathy and spotlight on doctor-patient interactions intensifies its impact. Mao’s poignant poem is not only a manifestation of empathy itself, but it is also a distinctly human poem.

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