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Analyzing the Arrangement of Henry’s Petroski’s “Lessons From Play; Lessons From Life”The organization and arrangement analysis explains and interprets the meaning of events primarily. It predicts what can happen given certain events, discuss the consequences of actions, and provide a perspective from which the reader can follow succeeding developments as they unfold. This is exemplified in this piece by Henry Petroski’s “Lessons From Play; Lessons From Life”, writing about the engineering concept of “failure by fatigue” in 1992. He begins his topic and overall approach by an opening statement that covers broadly the general topic of his essay—“failure by fatigue (p. 21). ” Here, the author establishes credibility with the reader by demonstrating his theory through a class experiment asking his students to bend paper clips up to the point of breaking (p. 21. ) The writer is telling the reader, “Thus, the students recognize at once the phenomenon of fatigue and the fact that failure by fatigue is not a precisely predictable event (p. 22). ” What follow is as though the author is thinking out loud while mulling over an issue as to why things fracture from repeated use. Figurative language such as the burning of light bulbs and breaking of shoelaces add texture to the writer’s thoughts (p. 22). Petroski drives home his view through a colorful anecdote and use of metaphors by his son’s use of Speak and Spell computer toy (p. 22) to set the stage for a more detailed argument of his proposition. The author illustrates claims that the toy’s “plastic keys most frequently pressed are the ones that were among the first keys to break (p. 23). ”The body of the text provides the details that support the writer’s argument.
At first, rather than take a position, the writer poses a question: “Why did the designers of the toy apparently not anticipate this problem? Why did they not use buttons that would outlast the toys electronics? Why did they not obviate the problem of fatigue, the problem that has defined the lifetimes of mechanical and structural designs for ages (p. 24)? ” The differences are in the tone, and in both instances, the author uses the authority of his own views and that of an engineering expert. One of the ways the author fashion support for an argument that “failure by fatigue” and not the failure of design is the main reason why things break is a simple enumeration of cases: collapse of a bridge and crash of a plane (p. 24), failure of designs in Hyatt Regency walkways and DC-10 planes, as well as automobiles breakdowns (p. 26). Moreover, the writer takes a strong stand as to what may really happen in an alternative scenario “(that) unless we are commonly fastidious, we live dangerously and pay little attention to preventive maintenance of our fraying shoelaces or our aging light bulbs. Though we may still ask “Why? ” when they break, we already know and accept the answer (p. 27). ”In the succeeding paragraphs, the writer uses repetition as a rhetorical device: the wear and tear due to repeated use of shoelaces and light bulbs, as well as the repeated bending of paper clips (p. 27-28) hits the reader again and again as the author drives home his point as with a hammer.
In contrast, the writer summarizes key concepts of Murphy’s Law—“holding that anything can go wrong will (p. 28)”—before launching into his own arguments against it. He then marshals a number of arguments against the implications of Murphy’s Law that nothing manufactured can last forever; and that inventing, building, or purchasing things we assume will last forever actually makes us fools and irrational beings (p. 28). Another way the author molds support is by analogy. The writer selects parallel situations and notes the similarities between the lifetime of a machine or structure (p. 29) and those of the inanimate world: that even the pyramids have been eroded by sand and wind; steel corrodes; diamonds can be split; and even nuclear waste has half-life (p. 30).
In addition to explanation and persuasion, Petroski evaluates by interweaving fact and opinion by declaring: “Sometimes we learn more from experience than calculations (p. 31). ”The writer clearly researched the issue before arriving at a conclusion. He repeats the main point while observing the technique of chronology while telling the story of how through discovery and experiments, he and his son were able to create a sling shot better than the mechanical ones sold in shops (p. 31-33). In closing, the writer uses a clever metaphor to remind the reader of his overall conclusion that failure is cause by fatigue (p. 21) used at the beginning of his essay. This connection unifies the piece, yet giving the audience a fresh twist that draws readers’ attention to the final point: “He (son) used learned to learn from mistakes. He had absorbed one of the principal lessons of engineering and he had learned also the frustration and the joys of being an engineer (p. 33).
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