Siobhan Donegan, Collin Horak, Michaela Williams



  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.


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.


Spread Kindness

For my Found Poem, I decided to use the lyrics from the song 1-800-273-8255 by Logic ft. Alessia Cara and Khalid. As soon as I found out about this assignment, this song was the first idea to pop into my head. I chose this song because it deals with such a dark sensitive topic; suicide.

This song is about the struggles of having depression and contemplation of suicide. By taking out and rearranging lyrics, I was able to change the original message that the singer wanted to portray. My poem is about feeling alone and struggles people experience in life. It is about finding someone who may bring light to negative situations and how important that person can be without even knowing it. You never really know what someone is going through and a simple act of kindness or showing you care can make a big difference in someone’s life.

Who Are You? The Idea of Self Awareness and Identity.

So, who are you? This is the big question that Rankine poses to the readers in chapter 7. “You are you even before you grow into understanding you are not anyone, worthless, not worth you.” (Rankine 139). Rankine is trying to portray to the reader how it feels to be black in a world where people are looked down upon because of the color of their skin. She says that she is an “alien to this place.” (Rankine 140) Rankine is trying to make the reader feel as unimportant and small as a colored person does on a daily basis. She uses the word “injured” to describe the negative effects of the color of her skin. “Nobody notices, only you’ve known, you’re not sick, not crazy, not angry, not sad- It’s just this, you’re injured.” (Rankine 145). This excerpt really stood out to me because she saying that her skin color is an injury, but how will it be healed? She can not change who she is and she must live every day with the color of her skin holding her back from opportunities in her life.

Rankine also mentions a date: July 13th, 2013. This was the day that Trayvon Martin’s verdict was given to the judge. The judge ruled the murder of sixteen-year-old Trayvon Martin was an accident. The shooter, police officer, George Zimmerman was found not guilty. This verdict hurt a lot of people and made the black community feel like they were taking a step back instead of forward in the fight for equality. “Trayvon Martin’s name sounds from the car radio a dozen times each half hour. You pull your love back into the seat because though no one seems to be chasing you, the justice system has other plans” (Rankine 151). Rankine was saying in this quote that the verdict of Trayvon Martin’s case was a message to the entire black community. The narrator in the quote says that even though they were not physically being chased, the United States justice system was after them.

In the last few pages of the book, Rankine brings the story back to first-person point of view. “Yesterday, I begin, I was waiting in the car for time to pass. A woman pulled in and started to park her car facing mine. Our eyes met and what passes passed as quickly as the look away. She backed up and parked on the other side of the lot. I could have followed her to worry my question but I had to go, I was expected on court, I grabbed my racket” (Rankine 159). When the narrator says she has to go to the court, we can infer she is talking about Serena Williams. Serena Williams faced many microaggressions on and off the court as Rankin mentioned earlier in the book. Rankine ends the book with an ambiguous quote that leaves the reader wondering. “It wasn’t a match, I say. It was a lesson” (Rankine 159) Rankine leaves the reader with this lesson and it is up to the reader to decide what they are going to do with this lesson.


  1. Now that we have all finished reading Citizen, think about the title. Why do you think Rankine chose this specific title? What does it mean? Find quotes or evidence in the text that can explain her reasoning or choice behind it.


2. Rankine left us with a lesson and leaves it up to the reader to interpret that lesson. What do you think was the overall lesson that Rankine wanted to portray to her readers?  What specific points in the text stand out to you as part of her lesson?

I’m Siobhan!

Hello! My name is Siobhan. I am from Seaford, Long Island. This is my second year at Cortland and I am an English major with a minor in communications. My passion for reading and writing helped to me chose my current major. My favorite things to do at home include going to the beach and spending time with my friends and family. I look forward to spending to rest of the semester getting to know all of you and learning more about multicultural literature!