Rhetoric

Siobhan Donegan, Collin Horak, Michaela Williams

 

Rhetoric

  1. . The art of using language effectively so as to persuade or influence others, esp. the exploitation of figures of speech and other compositional techniques to this end; the study of principles and rules to be followed by a speaker or writer striving for eloquence, esp. as formulated by ancient Greek and Roman writers.In the Middle Ages rhetoric was included in the seven liberal arts and was taught as part of the trivium (a introductory curriculum at a medieval university).

 

The Etymology of the word ‘rhetoric’ stems from the Anglo-Norman rethorik, and in Middle French and Old French, referring to, as one of the liberal arts, the art of speaking and writing well and persuasively or with eloquence. In post-classical Latin, the 7th century, the word was rethorica, the art of public speaking, oratory. The Classical Latin rhētorica may be interpreted as either Latinization form of rhētoricē , or use as a noun, short for ars rhētorica, of the feminine of rhētoricus.

Rhetoric is used in literature to appeal to the readers emotions and feelings. Throughout the semester, as a class we talked about devices, such as metaphor, metonym, alliteration, allusion, and how they can be used in literature to bring an eloquence to the text. An author use of this is often to not only grab the reader’s attention but also to convey an important message. While the word rhetoric itself can have different meanings given the context, Aristotle defined rhetoric as “the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion… Persuasion is achieved by the speaker’s personal character when the speech is so spoken as to make us think him credible”(Aristotle, 6-7). Rhetoric can be seen in all of the following pieces of literature and each author employs it differently.

The play, A Raisin in the Sun, was written by Lorraine Hansberry in 1959. Hansberry writes about the struggles of an African American family who lives in the poorer section of Chicago. Each of the main characters have their own dreams and perspectives on how to live a better life. These dreams include living in a bigger house, becoming a doctor, and the ability to financially provide for the family. Because the family struggles with poverty and the oppression of race and gender in society, their dreams are deferred. Rhetoric is important for analyzing the play because Hansberry used many of rhetorical strategies, including imagery and personification, to show the poverty the Younger family lives in. Rhetoric also helps the reader understand the purpose of the play, along with the identity of the characters within the play.

Hansberry uses rhetoric to show the hardships that each of the main characters have in their lives. For example, in the beginning of the play, Hansberry starts with stage directions.The directions describe the living room, giving the reader an idea of the family’s living conditions. One example of rhetoric used in these stage directions include,“The Younger living room would be a comfortable and well-ordered room if it were not for a number of indestructible contradictions to this state of being. Its furnishings are typical and undistinguished and their primary feature now is that they have clearly had to accommodate the living of too many people for too many years-and they are tired” (Hansberry 23). The rhetorical strategy that Hansberry uses in this quote is personification, as she describes the furnishings as being tired. This emphasizes the amount of time that the Younger family has dealt with the tiredness of living in poverty and Mama’s deferred dream of moving into a bigger house.

Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine dives deep into the everyday racial microaggressions faced by African Americans. A lyric is a form of poetry that expresses the writer’s feelings or emotions. Rankine talks about Serena Williams and the struggles she faced on and off the court with racial discrimination.Rankine writes “…on December 12, 2012, two weeks after Serena is named WTA Player of the year, the Dane Caroline Wozniacki, a former number-one player, imitates Serena by stuffing towels in her top and shorts…” (Rankine 35). Wozniacki, who was a respected tennis player displayed racist actions but there were no real consequences for her actions. Because she was a white female who had accomplished so much in her career as a tennis player, many looked passed her actions because she was so respected. Rankine also writes that Wozniacki’s actions “finally gives the people what they have wanted all along by embodying Serena’s attributes while leaving Serena’s ‘angry nigger exterior’ behind.” (Rankine 36) Rankine’s sarcastic tone is being used to show how many people saw Wokniacki’s actions to be acceptable. Wokniacki treated her actions as a harmless joke but in reality, this microaggression was extremely racist. Rankine tries to make the reader aware of the fact that many microaggressions made by respected people go unrecognized just because of their reputation.

In Mean, Myriam Gurba writes a memoir that is a bold coming of age story about a young mixed girl, Mexican and Polish, growing up in California. Gurba employs the usage of comedy in this text, often in a dark tone, to tell her stories. This text faces subjects such as sexual assault, racism, PTSD and rape culture in a brazen way which enlightens the reader on the topics in a new and different way. Gurba uses rhetoric to expose the world to the reader through her skewed lens, which is sexualized and different due to her bilinguality since birth. One example is how she plays with Spanish and English languages together, particularly in the chapter, “English is Spanish”, she talks about how she was taught both languages, Spanish by her mother and English by her father. In the last paragraph of the chapter she uses both languages in the same paragraph, mixing the two in one sentence, to give the reader a brief example of what her mind was like growing up (Gurba 5). At first glance, even to someone with a basic understanding of the Spanish language, the sentence is confusing and disorienting as she uses spanish words that have different meanings, given context and accent placement on the given word.   

She uses metaphors and similes throughout the text, drawing from figures in pop culture, art history and calling back to characters in her story who had an impact on her life, negatively or positively. In the chapter titled “Senorita,” Gurba details her experience getting molested in her junior high history class by a boy named Macauley with grim wit. The author writes “He disappeared from my life after second grade and reappeared in history. He became a part of history, mine and Mr. Hand’s.” (24) This is is a play on words on how what he did to her had an impact on her life; and also took place in history class. The teacher’s name was Mr. Hand, which may or may not have been his actual name or just another play on words given the events which took place in his classroom. Later in the text, when she is describing her time in college and the classes she is taking, one chapter titled “Fall Semester 1999” in which she lists two history courses that she took that semester and then the entire chapter is “I graduated cum laude with a history degree. I think I minored in womens studies. History is the place where I got molested. History made me cum laude.” (156) Here the author’s play on words infers dark sexual connotations surrounding her academic accolades and her haunting past experience.  Gurba use of rhetoric leaves the reader with a feeling of grim understanding of the world, at a glance from her perspective.

Rhetoric is a crucial part of literature because it allows for an appreciation for the character of the author and the quality of their means of persuasion. By having a deeper understanding of different literary devices and their functions in literature, we can better understand and analyze the meaning a text is trying to convey. The art of persuasion and eloquence of language is an essential component to building and maintaining a reader’s interest, as well as give credibility to your writing.

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Work Cited

Aristoteles, and William Rhys Roberts. Rhetoric. Dover, 2004.

Gurba, Myriam. Mean. Coffee House Press, 2017.

Hansberry, Lorraine. A Raisin in the Sun. Vintage, 1958.

Rankine, Claudia. From Citizen. Small Fires Press, 2017.

“rhetoric, n.1.” OED Online, Oxford University Press, July 2018,         

www.oed.com/view/Entry/165178. Accessed 30 November 2018.

 

Keyword: Story

Lauren Fezer, Diavian Collier, Michael George

 

Story

(Photo via Gellinger on pixabay.com)

 

Definitions:

  • An oral or written narrative account of events that occurred or are believed to have occurred in the past; a narrative account accepted as true by virtue of great age or long tradition.
  • A narrative of imaginary or (less commonly) real events composed for the entertainment of the listener or reader; a (short) work of fiction; a tale.

 

Etymology: < Anglo-Norman storie (early 12th cent.; also estorie , istorie ), variant of Anglo-Norman and Old French estoire tale, narrative, history, account, source, text, etc.

The graph above shows how frequently the words story, Story, and STORY have been used in a corpus of books throughout the years 1800-2000. Over the years the way stories are told has evolved. The earliest stories were verbal stories passed down from generation to generation, then came the written story. According to The Washington Post, there has been a 13% decrease in the number of adults that read any work of literature throughout a given year. People are not reading as much as they used to. Instead, stories are getting told in the form of movies, television, podcasts, music, and other forms of multimedia. Stories haven’t died, they’ve simply changed in the manner that they’re delivered.

The definition states that a story can be a narrative that has been accepted as true by virtue of great age or long tradition. This explains stories that have been passed down through generations such as legends or folklore, but stories do not have to originate from centuries ago. New stories are being told and written everyday for many reasons.

 

Stories can be created for reasons such as providing entertainment, to inspire, to teach, or to bring people together through common topics. Understanding this can further enhance an audience’s perception of a story, because people are able to relate to stories through their characters and their overall messages. For example, by knowing that a story is for entertainment, people can relate to the quirks that each character contains or simply enjoy the events that occur throughout the story. This can also allow the reader/listener to respect the amount of work that went into the story by focusing on how the author intended to tie each word together and how much meaning each word holds.

 

Many stories weave together incorporating multiple perspectives. More often than not, stories have two sides to them. Hearing only a single side to a story will prevent readers and listeners from gathering a greater amount of information to better understand the story. This is what can eventually lead to misconceptions and naïvety, as Adichie explains in her TED Talk, “The Danger of a Single Story.” In this instance, Adichie refers to events in which people rely on singular stories to form their ideas about others. Due to this, their ideas are misconstrued and at times comical by how incorrect they are.

 

Since stories can be fictional or nonfictional, they can also play a huge role in building up a person’s imagination. Not everybody will have the opportunity to travel the world and experience different cultures. Through literature people can get a glimpse of parts of the world that they’ve never seen and in some cases will never be able to see.   

 

Keyword In Action:

 

During Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED Talk “The Danger of a Single Story”, she references several instances that highlight the importance of stories and how a single story can misinform. She states, “What this demonstrates, I think, is how impressionable and vulnerable we are in the face of a story, particularly as children.” (Adichie) Adichie said this after talking about a story she had read that focused on people whose culture was foreign to her. Because of this, she assumed that all stories had to be about people that she could not relate to. This assumption changed after she discovered that African books existed, giving her a whole new perspective about what a story could be.

 

After recalling a time when Adichie visited her servant’s family, she was astonished to see that Fide’s brother had woven a beautiful basket. Adichie recalled, “All I had heard about them is how poor they were, so that it had become impossible for me to see them as anything else but poor. Their poverty was my single story of them.” (Adichie) If her mother told her that Fide’s family was poor and hardworking, instead of just telling her about how poor he was, she would have had a different story for Fide and his family. According to Adichie, this is how single-sided stories are created. If you “show people as one thing, only as one thing, over and over and that’s what they become.” (Adichie) Here, Adichie details the potential danger of stories, as they have the power to change one’s perspective for the worst. Stories have the power to transcend literary terms and affect the lives of actual human beings.

 

Another example of this patronizing behavior is experienced by Adichie herself, in conversation with her college roommate. Adichie recalls: “What struck me was this: She had felt sorry for me even before she saw me. Her default position toward me, as an African, was a kind of patronizing, well-meaning pity. My roommate had a single story of Africa: a single story of catastrophe. In this single story, there was no possibility of Africans being similar to her in any way, no possibility of feelings more complex than pity, no possibility of a connection as human equals.” (Adichie) Here, Adichie details an encounter with her American roommate who has trouble understanding Adichie due to her narrow-minded view of Africa and the people who live there. She asks her questions pertaining to African stereotypes that she assumes will apply to Adichie, and is confused when they do not. Here, the single story is the one of an impoverished Africa, told by Americans to Americans. The trouble with these situations is that Adichie understands that her roommate was not being malicious or patronizing, but they were simply curious. They truly believed the stories of tribal dancing and ritualistic behavior they have likely heard their whole life. Unfortunately, this way of thinking loses it’s curious innocence when it becomes the dividing factor between the two. The roommate uses this so called knowledge to create metaphorical barriers between themselves and Adichie. This is the premise of their mental severance.

 

Stories can serve many purposes; they can be used to entertain and to educate. In The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston, the narrator returns home with some seemingly exciting news for her mother. Unfortunately, her mother does not reciprocate her enthusiasm, shifting the conversation from a moment of praise to a teachable lesson. The conversation goes as follows:

“I got straight A’s, Mama.”

“Let me tell you a true story about a girl who saved her village” (Kingston 45)

Here, the narrator learns a lesson on honor. She initially believes that getting straight A’s is an achievement worthy of praise, but in this moment, she is met with the realization that this feat is seen as trivial on a grander scale. It’s not that her mother isn’t proud of her, but instead her mother wants her to recognize the work of a true hero. This was likely a defining moment in the narrator’s formative years. Despite the fact that this kind of reaction may seem harsh or cruel to readers, to the narrator, this is just an example of how a story changed her perspective on life.

 

Ultimately, stories are important for a variety of reasons. They are something that is so common in society, and new stories are being created every day. Stories can be as simple as something shared amongst friends or something as widely known as books, such as The Woman Warrior. Regardless of how large the audience is, stories matter. They can be used as learning tools, they can bring people together, or they can bring joy to the audience as entertainment. By understanding the reasoning behind a story, audiences are able to understand the story’s message more clearly.

 

Works Cited

 

Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi. “The Danger of a Single Story.” Ted, Ted,

www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story.

 

Ingraham, Christopher. “The Long, Steady Decline of Literary Reading.” The

Washington Post, WP Company, 7 Sept. 2016,

www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/09/07/the-long-steady-decline-of-l

iterary-reading/?utm_term=.783931b2a158.

Hong Kingston , Maxine. The Woman Warrior. Vintage Int, 1976.

Assimilation

Photo Credit to pixabay.com

Iris Yang, Morgan McConnell, and Emily Siegel

Assimilation: What it is, Why it helps us read texts differently, and How it affects multicultural people

Assimilation is a term used towards people of differing ethnicities and cultures as those people change themselves in order to conform to the societal norms of their place of residence. There are several definitions for the term assimilation. According to Merriam-Webster, assimilation is “the process in which individuals and groups of differing heritages acquire the basic habits, attitudes, and mode of life of an embracing culture” (“Assimilation”). To Dictionary.com, assimilation refers to “the process of adapting or adjusting to the culture of a group or nation, or the state of being so adapted”. Also from Dictionary.com, assimilation into culture refers to “a process by which a person or persons acquire the social and psychological characteristics of a group” (“Assimilation”). A word that branches off the term assimilation is the noun and adjective assimilationist; this is a person who advocates or participates in racial or cultural integration (“Assimilationist”). Both of these definitions of assimilation from Merriam-Webster and Dictionary.com essentially mean the same thing but in different terms. Underneath the definition, they both use the example of immigrants assimilating into American life and culture. This can be tied into the literary works of Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun and Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts.

According to Etymonline.com, in the 1620s, the term assimilation was understood as the  “process of becoming alike or identical, conversion into a similar substance” (“Assimilation (n.).”). It later developed to have more figurative and psychological connotations. Today’s definition is less literal and is more about a group of people fitting into a culture. It is no longer characterized by a complete change to become an exact copy of something else. However, it can often feel this way for those who are trying to assimilate into a society. Discrimination can make minority groups feel that they need to exactly imitate mainstream culture to receive equality and justice.

Assimilation provides a lens through which we can analyze literary texts. Thinking about assimilation while reading allows one to consider the difficulties that certain individuals or groups may face while integrating into a society. It can help readers focus on the text and relate it to real-life issues.  As a result of high volumes of immigration to the United States, many literary works are designed to convey the struggles certain groups face while assimilating. Reading through a lens of assimilation allows readers to recognize these widespread difficulties in literary works. Several of the texts we read this semester critique the pressure of assimilation and therefore express the message that characters should be able to preserve their own culture and heritage. For example, considering assimilation while reading Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun can help readers understand the struggles that the African-American Younger family faces in a country of segregation. Instead of simply reading the text, thinking about assimilation can highlight specific moments, such as when white community members want to prevent the Younger family from moving into their neighborhood. A lens of assimilation can also be applied to the text Kingston’s The Woman Warrior. This can help readers better understand the narrator’s adversities as she tries to find a balance between her Chinese heritage and new American culture.

Throughout the play, A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry, the term assimilation is used frequently in different ways. For example, Beneatha expresses her feelings to her brother Walter by calling him an  “….assimilationist Negroe” (Hansberry 81). It is important to understand that Beneatha then tells Ruth, Walter’s wife, that this means, “…someone who is willing to give up his own culture and submerge himself completely in the dominant, and in this case oppressive culture!” (Hansberry 81). Another example of this term is when Beneatha and her friend, Asagai, are having a conversation and Asagai says, “But what does it matter? Assimilationism is so popular in your country.” (Hansberry 65); to that Beneatha responds, “I am not an assimilationist!” (Hansberry 65). Due to the fact that Asagai grew up in Nigeria and Beneatha grew up in Chicago, they each have cultural differences that separate them and their views on assimilation. Asagai uses the term assimilation in a discussion with Beneatha and explains how he believes assimilationism is popular in the United States. Beneatha took offense to that because she believes that she is not assimilating to “white culture”. This discusses how people try to fit-in and attempt to integrate into American culture, that even an outsider to the United States can see how apparent it is. Hansberry’s work prompts the reader to think about assimilation by allowing one to follow the life of an African American family and how differently they are treated. Hansberry’s point of view about assimilation is similar to the character Beneatha’s view. They both believe that people should not assimilate in order to conform to societal norms.  

In the book, The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston, the narrator is seen to be an assimilationist specifically in the first section of the book called, “No Name Woman”. The narrator moved from China to America when she was a young girl, and was told a story by her mother about her Aunt who killed herself and her child by jumping down the family well. This story was told by her mother to help try and impact her future life decisions as she was growing up.  The narrator is portrayed as an assimilationist because her family follows strict Chinese tradition and never speaks of her Aunt; this is because the family believes she does not have the right to be spoken about. The narrator thinks of other ways as to why her Aunt may have done this, not necessarily following her family shunning her because of getting pregnant from someone besides her husband which is frowned upon in Chinese culture.

Assimilation can help readers understand literary works by challenging them to think about diversity and blending into mainstream culture. Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun and Kingston’s The Woman Warrior can both be read through a lens of assimilation. They provide examples of characters who want to preserve their own culture and heritage, but feel pressured to assimilate.

Works Cited

“Assimilation.” Dictionary.com, Dictionary.com, www.dictionary.com/browse/assimilation.

“Assimilation.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster, 10 Nov. 2018, www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/assimilation.

“Assimilation (n.).” Online Etymology Dictionary , Online Etymology Dictionary , www.etymonline.com/word/assimilation#etymonline_v_26620.

“Assimilationist.” Dictionary.com, Dictionary.com, www.dictionary.com/browse/assimilationist.

Hansberry, Lorraine. A Raisin in the Sun; Robert Nemiroff, New York: Vintage Books, 1994.

Kingston, Maxine Hong. The Woman Warrior; Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts, Vintage International Edition, 1989.