Passages for Rhetorical Analysis: Applying the Figures of Speech



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Passages for Rhetorical Analysis: Applying the Figures of Speech


These ten discussion questions provide opportunities to apply some of the key concepts and terms used in rhetorical analyses of essays, speeches, poems, short stories, and novels.

Before getting down to work, you may find it helpful to review the following terms: accumulation, anticlimax, antithesis, apposition, chiasmus, climax, enthymeme, ethos, identification, irony, logos, metaphor, pathos, simile, tenor, tricolon, understatement, vehicle, and voice.



  1. Discuss the effects created by antithesis and climax in the final portion of Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.

    But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow, this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have hallowed it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here; while it can never forget what they did here.

    It is rather for us the living, we here be dedicated to the great task remaining before us--that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion--that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.





  1. Identify and discuss the ethical, pathetic, and/or logical appeals in this excerpt from Richard Nixon’s “Checkers” speech of 1952.

Well, then the question arises, you say, "Well, how do you pay for these and how can you do it legally?" And there are several ways that it can be done, incidentally, and that it is done legally in the United States Senate and in the Congress. The first way is to be a rich man. I don't happen to be a rich man, so I couldn't use that one. Another way that is used is to put your wife on the pay roll. Let me say, incidentally, that my opponent, my opposite number for the Vice Presidency on the Democratic ticket, does have his wife on the pay roll and has had it--her on his pay roll for the ten years--for the past ten years. Now just let me say this: That's his business, and I'm not critical of him for doing that. You will have to pass judgment on that particular point.

But I have never done that for this reason: I have found that there are so many deserving stenographers and secretaries in Washington that needed the work that I just didn't feel it was right to put my wife on the pay roll.

My wife's sitting over here. She's a wonderful stenographer. She used to teach stenography and she used to teach shorthand in high school. That was when I met her. And I can tell you folks that she's worked many hours at night and many hours on Saturdays and Sundays in my office, and she's done a fine job, and I am proud to say tonight that in the six years I've been in the House and the Senate of the United States, Pat Nixon has never been on the Government pay roll. . . .

One other thing I probably should tell you, because if I don't they'll probably be saying this about me, too. We did get something, a gift, after the election. A man down in Texas heard Pat on the radio mention the fact that our two youngsters would like to have a dog. And believe it or not, the day before we left on this campaign trip we got a message from Union Station in Baltimore, saying they had a package for us. We went down to get it. You know what it was? It was a little cocker spaniel dog in a crate that he'd sent all the way from Texas, black and white, spotted. And our little girl Tricia, the six year old, named it "Checkers." And you know, the kids, like all kids, love the dog, and I just want to say this, right now, that regardless of what they say about it, we're gonna keep it.



  1. Define the terms tenor and vehicle, and show where and how each is embodied in Emily Dickinson’s metaphorical poem “Wild Nights.”

    Wild nights! Wild nights!
    Were I with thee,
    Wild nights should be
    Our luxury!

    Futile the winds


    To a heart in port,
    Done with the compass,
    Done with the chart.

    Rowing in Eden!


    Ah! the sea!
    Might I but moor
    To-night in thee!



  1. After reading the opening of Edgar Allan Poe’s story “The Tell-Tale Heart,” identify the stylistic devices and rhetorical strategies that actively discourage a conventional reader from identifying with the narrator.

TRUE!--nervous--very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why WILL you say that I am mad? The disease had sharpened my senses--not destroyed, not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell. How then am I mad? Hearken! and observe how healthily--how calmly, I can tell you the whole story.

It is impossible to say how first the idea entered my brain, but, once conceived, it haunted me day and night. Object there was none. Passion there was none. I loved the old man. He had never wronged me. He had never given me insult. For his gold I had no desire. I think it was his eye! Yes, it was this! One of his eyes resembled that of a vulture--a pale blue eye with a film over it. Whenever it fell upon me my blood ran cold, and so by degrees--very gradually--I made up my mind to take the life of the old man, and thus rid myself of the eye for ever.

Now this is the point. You fancy me mad. Madmen know nothing. But you should have seen me. You should have seen how wisely I proceeded--with what caution--with what foresight--with what dissimulation, I went to work! I was never kinder to the old man than during the whole week before I killed him.


  1. Robert Creeley’s poem “Oh No” has been subject to radically different readings, some viewing it as deeply comforting and others as profoundly disturbing. Taking into account the nature of irony and of metaphor as well as the specific language of the poem, discuss how such a seemingly simple poem could invite such contrary responses.

Oh No!

If you wander far enough


you will come to it
and when you get there
they will give you a place to sit

for yourself only, in a nice chair,


and all your friends will be there
with smiles on their faces
and they will likewise all have places.

6. Discuss how Zora Neale Hurston employs antithesis and chiasmus to establish the ethos of an omniscient narrator in these opening paragraphs from the novel Their Eyes Were Watching God.

Ships at a distance have every man's wish on board. For some they come in with the tide. For others they sail forever on the horizon, never out of sight, never landing until the Watcher turns his eyes away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by Time. That is the life of men.

Now, women forget all those things they don't want to remember, and remember everything they don't want to forget. The dream is the truth. Then they act and do things accordingly.

So the beginning of this was a woman and she had come back from burying the dead. Not the dead of sick and ailing with friends at the pillow and the feet. She had come back from the sodden and the bloated; the sudden dead, their eyes flung wide open in judgment.
7. Identify and discuss the effects created by the simile and two appositives in the opening paragraphs of George Orwell’s “A Hanging.”

It was in Burma, a sodden morning of the rains. A sickly light, like yellow tinfoil, was slanting over the high walls into the jail yard. We were waiting outside the condemned cells, a row of sheds fronted with double bars, like small animal cages. Each cell measured about ten feet by ten and was quite bare within except for a plank bed and a pot of drinking water. In some of them brown silent men were squatting at the inner bars, with their blankets draped round them. These were the condemned men, due to be hanged within the next week or two.

One prisoner had been brought out of his cell. He was a Hindu, a puny wisp of a man, with a shaven head and vague liquid eyes. He had a thick, sprouting moustache, absurdly too big for his body, rather like the moustache of a comic man on the films. Six tall Indian warders were guarding him and getting him ready for the gallows.


8. In the following four paragraphs from President Franklin Roosevelt’s first inaugural address (1933), identify and discuss the effects created by these four rhetorical devices: metaphor, antithesis, enthymeme, and apposition.

This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure, as it has endured, will revive and will prosper.

So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself--nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life, a leadership of frankness and of vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. And I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days. . . .

In the field of world policy, I would dedicate this Nation to the policy of the good neighbor: the neighbor who resolutely respects himself and, because he does so, respects the rights of others; the neighbor who respects his obligations and respects the sanctity of his agreements in and with a world of neighbors.

If I read the temper of our people correctly, we now realize, as we have never realized before, our interdependence on each other; that we can not merely take, but we must give as well; that if we are to go forward, we must move as a trained and loyal army willing to sacrifice for the good of a common discipline, because without such discipline no progress can be made, no leadership becomes effective.


9. The following two paragraphs are from Chapter 32 of Kinky Friedman’s comic detective novel Armadillos and Old Lace (1994). The voice is that of the narrating detective--also named Kinky Friedman. Briefly, discuss (and illustrate specifically) how the speaker’s distinctive style is conveyed through accumulation, tricolons, examples, anticlimax, and pronoun shifts.

I leaned the shotgun up against the wall, poured another cup of coffee, and lit up a cigar. I sat down in the sunlit doorway of the trailer and sipped the coffee, smoked the cigar, and reflected on the subject of loners in this world. There’ve been some very good loners down through the ages. Henry David Thoreau, Emily Dickinson, Johnny Appleseed, the woman who worked with gorillas in Africa, whatever the hell her name was, even Benny Hill in the last years of his life after they canceled his television show. These people all knew that the majority is always wrong, and even if it isn’t, who gives a damn anyway. They knew that within is where it’s at, and if nothing’s happening within it doesn’t really matter if your co-dependent wife throws a black-tie surprise party for you and hundreds of well-wishers show up who just as soon wish you’d fallen down a well.

I liked loners. The downside, of course, was that every serial killer who’d ever lived had also been a loner. Well, you can’t have everything. People just tend to drive you crazy after a while. That’s why penthouses, nunneries, sailboats, islands, and jail cells do such a booming business.
10. Discuss the primary stylistic devices and rhetorical strategies (along with the resultant effects) employed in the following passage by Mark Twain.

Man is the Religious Animal. He is the only Religious Animal. He is the only animal that has the True Religion--several of them. He is the only animal that loves his neighbor as himself, and cuts his throat if his theology isn't straight. He has made a graveyard of the globe in trying his honest best to smooth his brother's path to happiness and heaven. He was at it in the time of the Caesars, he was at in Mahomet's time, he was at it in the time of the Inquisition, he was at it in France a couple of centuries ago, he was at in England in Mary's day, he has been at it ever since he first saw the light, he is at it today in Crete--as per the telegrams quoted above--he will be at it somewhere else tomorrow. The higher animals have no religion. And we are told that they are going to be left out, in the Hereafter. I wonder why? It seems questionable taste.
("The Lowest Animal")

Rhetorical Study Questions: Figures of Speech in Context


These ten study questions invite you to consider some of the functions of figurative language in the context of particular poems, essays, speeches, and other texts. You're asked to examine the various effects created (and meanings conveyed) by a variety of figures of speech. The tips following each passage direct you to articles and glossary entries that should help you understand the rhetorical concepts and the different ways they work.


  1. Identify and briefly explain the multiple metaphors in the third stanza of Emily Dickinson’s poem “Because I could not stop for death”:

We passed the School, where Children strove
At Recess in the Ring;
We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain
We passed the Setting Sun--

TIP: Metaphor.

  1. Explain how the following E.E. Cummings’ poem contains both a visual and a textual metaphor:

l(a

le
af


fa

ll
s)


one
l

iness


TIP: What Is a Metaphor? and Visual Metaphor.

  1. Define the terms tenor and vehicle (as used by British rhetorician I.A. Richards), and point out how each is embodied in Ezra Pound's two-line poem “In a Station at the Metro”:

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.

TIP: Metaphor, Tenor, and Vehicle.

  1. In chapter six of his book Analyzing Prose, contemporary rhetorician Richard Lanham offers the following sentences from the New Testament to illustrate the concept of tacit persuasion patterns:

The first shall be last, and the last shall be first.
Judge not, that ye be not judged.
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Identify the rhetorical device (derived from the Greek letter X) common to all three of these examples, and briefly explain what Lanham means by characterizing this device as a tacit persuasion pattern.


TIP: Persuasion.

  1. This famous line from President John Kennedy’s inaugural address--“And so my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you–ask what you can do for your country”--illustrates the related rhetorical figures of parison, antithesis, and chiasmus. Briefly, define each of these figures and discuss the effects created by them.
    TIP: Parison, Antithesis, and Chiasmus.



  1. Discuss the effects created by antithesis and climax in the final paragraph of President Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address:

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate we can not consecrate we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion--that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

TIP: The Gettysburg Address, Antithesis, and Climax.

  1. Briefly discuss the effects of paronomasia, oxymoron, simile, epizeuxis, and assonance in the following stanza from Dylan Thomas's villanelle "Do not go gentle into that good night":

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

TIP: Pun, Oxymoron, Simile, Epizeuxis, and Assonance.

  1. By the end of the essay “Am I Blue?” Alice Walker has uncovered a fundamental human experience in the anguish and anger demonstrated by a horse that had lost its mate. Briefly, discuss how Walker conveys her thoughts and emotions through epiphora, diacope, polyptoton, and analogies.

Blue was like a crazed person. Blue was, to me, a crazed person. He galloped furiously, as if he were being ridden, around and around his five beautiful acres. He whinnied until he couldn’t. He tore at the ground with his hooves. He butted himself against his single shade tree. He looked always and always toward the road down which his partner had gone. And then, occasionally, when he came up for apples, or I took apples to him, he looked at me. It was a look so piercing, so full of grief, a look so human, that I almost laughed (I felt too sad to cry) to think there are people who do not know animals suffer. People like me who have forgotten, and daily forget, all that animals try to tell us. “Everything you do to us will happen to you; we are your teachers, as you are ours. We are one lesson” is essentially it, I think. There are those who have never once considered animals’ rights: those who have been taught that animals actually want to be used and abused by us, as small children “love” to be frightened, or women “love” to be mutilated and raped. . . . They are the great-grandchildren of those who honestly thought, because someone taught them this: “Women can’t think,” and ”niggers can’t faint.”

TIP: Epiphora (and Epistrophe), Diacope, Polyptoton,

9. Briefly but specifically, identify, analyze, and evaluate the distinctive ethical appeals and the enthymemic reasoning in this introduction to an online argument for the legalization of marijuana:

Pretty much everybody who knows me (and many more who have no clue who the hell I am) knows that I oppose the current state of prohibition against a wonderfully beneficial little plant, well maybe it's not so little. This plant would happen to be known as the hemp plant, cannabis sp., which is more commonly know as "marijuana," but which I prefer to call hemp due to the racist history tied to the adoption of that other term in more common usage.
Now let me start out by letting you know that you shouldn't go getting your panties in a wad, calling me some pothead out to undermine the moral fabric of our "wonderful" society. First of all, I'm no pothead, I'm just well informed, and I prefer to do what I damn well please, provided I don't harm anybody. Second, there is no merit in arguments to the effect that using cannabis is an immoral act. I challenge you to find a quote in the Bible that states that responsible use of cannabis, or alcohol for that matter, is detrimental to one's morality or in conflict with God's dictates. For you non theists out there, present me with some argument to the effect that the responsible use of cannabis, or alcohol, or any other recreational stimulant is in conflict with man's essential moral make up. I doubt that you could find one that is going to hold water, and if you've got one, I'll crush it (I'm a cocky son of a bitch, ain't I). Anyway, read on, and maybe you'll find out why I hold the position I do.

TIP: Ethos, Enthymeme, and Argument.
10. Briefly yet specifically, discuss how Zora Neale Hurston employs antithesis, chiasmus, personification, and metaphor to establish the ethos of an omniscient narrator in these opening paragraphs from the novel Their Eyes Were Watching God:

Ships at a distance have every man's wish on board. For some they come in with the tide. For others they sail forever on the horizon, never out of sight, never landing until the Watcher turns his eyes away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by Time. That is the life of men.


Now, women forget all those things they don't want to remember, and remember everything they don't want to forget. The dream is the truth. Then they act and do things accordingly.
So the beginning of this was a woman and she had come back from burying the dead. Not the dead of sick and ailing with friends at the pillow and the feet. She had come back from the sodden and the bloated; the sudden dead, their eyes flung wide open in judgment.

TIP: Antithesis, Chiasmus, Personification, Metaphor, Ethos, and Third-Person Point of View.


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