Assignment #2: Analyzing Rhetorical Techniques
Format: Microsoft Word, three pages, double-spaced, 12-pt. font, standard margins
The main difference between this assignment and your previous paper (“Close Reading for Language”) is that this essay will propose a main “point” or “message” to the article you are analyzing and following that message through the entire piece, tracing out how it builds and develops. This assignment will also focus on the various methods the writer uses to convince and perhaps even manipulate you into agreement, or into thinking harder and deeper on the subject at hand.
Instead of merely describing the content of an author’s claims (“what” is being said and whether you as a reader agree or disagree), your essay should instead be an analysis of “how” the tactics and techniques that writers use to push her points across work. “Rhetoric” comes from a word meaning “to weave” (from the classical Greek) and this third paper should focus on how a writer builds an argument and a point-of-view out of the fabric of language.
This again means a microscopic attention to the way that words, punctuation and blank space are set down on a page. Remember how the word “argument” is being used here—in academic terms an argument is not so much a quarrel as a piece of attempted persuasion. As well, the paper should search for techniques like “hyperbole” (or exaggeration) and “antithesis” (or contrast). Where is there irony or sarcasm of tone? How are the active and passive voices contrasted?
As in your close-reading paper, you cannot be too “small” in register. Focus on the tiny elements with which an argument is constructed. Why begin a series of paragraphs on the word “The”? Why transition between paragraphs in certain ways? How does word-choice convey the writer’s emotional or cultural perspective? Does the essay use irony or sarcasm to undermine what others might take more seriously, or does it use excessive seriousness to weigh in on an issue many of us take lightly?
Anything that is set down in verbal language can be subject to this kind of analysis. This following thesis illustrates how the most over-used of words can be looked at with fresh eyes: “Sandra Cisneros’ piece “My Name” seems to argue that one’s given moniker is both a blessing and a burden, something potentially empowering to identify with and yet something that can limit people by labeling them with certain associations.” Often a good thesis subverts or undermines our “normal,” common-sense conclusions and proposes a deeper, more detailed way of looking at a topic.
We too often think in terms of binary or dualism—simple contrasts between “opposites,” but generally the most productive thinking on a subject takes places in that dangerous territory in between. The following thesis demonstrates how to work against such over-simple, two-way thinking: “We generally regard Life and Death as being at opposite ends of a spectrum, but Hunter S. Thompson’s article on motorcycle riding ‘The Edge’ shows how these two states (and the seemingly ‘opposite’ states of Pleasure and Fear, and Recklessness and Control) actually sit ‘next’ to each other, and that traveling along the narrow margin between these neighbors can be a source of excitement and enlightenment.” This thesis tells us in advance what it plans to examine, and thus provides the reader with a small and helpful roadmap.
A good rhetorical essay can also take a seemingly simple verbal usage and dig deeper into some of its implications. This thesis demonstrates one specific way of going about this: “Personal pronouns are not simple, innocent words in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s feminist horror story ‘The Yellow Wallpaper.’ Instead, a personal pronoun like ‘I’ grows from a slender, insignificant term into a tower of strength, the word ‘he’ goes from a term of respect to a term of accusation, and the word ‘we’ becomes an emblem of female solidarity. This paper will track and follow these various pronouns (and others) to demonstrate how they can function as sources of strength as well as methods of humiliation and disempowerment” This thesis statement allows the paper that follows to focus on one specific usage (the pronoun) and thus stay on track throughout its argument.
Again, this assignment’s main task is to locate the central, main “thrust” or “claim” of one of the poems or stories from our course reader and then to proceed to analyze how this message is developed. This means underlining and emphasizing those key moments in the piece where it uses specific language to convey its point and convince its readership. Your own essay will similarly use its own language to convince us that you have paid close attention to those methods used in an act of linguistic persuasion.
Here are some possible topics (you are also encouraged to develop your own…):
Walter Abish’s “Alphabetical Africa” passage only uses words beginning with the letters a, b, and c—how does this author use the limited, constricted pattern to portray Africa’s history of colonialism and subjugation?
Basho’s “Briefly We Glisten” and some of the other haiku in our handout are brief poems of seventeen syllables each—how do they comment on the quick, flashing brevity of our lives and our perceptions?
Pablo Neruda’s “The Book of Questions” is composed entirely of interrogatives. If one keeps an open ear, one will hear hundreds or perhaps thousands of questions in the average day of a New Yorker. How does Neruda’s piece comment on our need to ask?
The U.S. Constitution promises a separation of church and state, but how does Sonia Singh’s story “Goddess for Hire” comment on the intersection between religion and commerce?
Osama Alomar’s “The Teeth and the Comb” is a collection of short micro-fictions, many of which are titled “— and —.” How does this passage comment on the human compulsion to divide things into opposing pairs?
Pascale Petit’s “Mama Amazonica” is a surrealistic account of the author’s mother’s stay in a mental ward for hallucinating herself as the Amazonian rainforest. How does this piece question our beliefs in what constitutes “mental illness”?
Mohsin Hamid’s “Of Windows and Doors” deals with refugees and a fleeing from an unnamed homeland. How does it deal with the two passages mentioned in its title as symbols of movement and place?
Marcia Douglas’ “The Language of Snails” imagines women turning into snails to escape the drudgery of their domestic lives. How does this story imagine the relations between human and non-human animals?
Eduardo Galeano’s “Upside Down: A Primer for the Looking-Glass World” is a bitter political tirade about the general unfairness of modern economics. How does it use to theme of “inversion” to describe our contemporary world?
Olive Senior’s “Gardening in the Tropics” uses the motif of agriculture to describe political and cultural life in the Caribbean. How do plants and soil function as metaphors throughout this piece?
Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi’s “In the Garden of Mystic Lovers” is a series of meditations from one of the classic voices in Sufism. How does this series of sayings comment on the interrelation between love of God and love between humans?
Aimee Bender’s “Fruit and Words” tries to trouble the line between objects and the words for those objects. How does the language of Bender’s story take on an animated life of its own?
Larissa Lai’s “Salt Fish Girl” seems to be a parable on the thematic connection between Woman and Water. How does Lai use fluidity as a prime metaphor of the Feminine?
Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki’s “The Ten Zen Ox-Herding Pictures” imagines the path to spiritual enlightenment in terms of the domestication of a hooved beast. How does the author use the process of “taming” a creature to portray the “freeing” of the human spirit here?
Mary TallMountain’s “There is No Word for Goodbye” frames Native American life as an endless cycle with no ultimate farewells. How does the language of her piece accentuate this sense of endlessness?
Kazim Ali’s “Notes on Silence/Syllabus for a Semester on Silence” deals with all the ways the “wordlessness” can still “speak.” How does Ali use language to suggest some of the things that language can’t do?
Please note any of the following of these Readings!!!!! Highly important no outside sources and only choose one reading!!!!
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