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Elie Wiesel’s Use of Rhetoric in The Perils of Indifference

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Elie Wiesel, a Nobel Peace Prize Winner and Boston University Professor, spoke during Millenium Reading Series in the White House on April, 12 1999. The speech, “The Perils of Indifference”, was given by Elie Wiesel. Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor, addresses the problems of the 20th century and explains the dangers of indifference at the same time. The appeals, powerful messages, and arguments of Wiesel to his audience makes this speech so efficient. Wiesel lived through the tough times of Holocaust and he experienced indifference first hand. Indifference is the absence of compassion and implies something worse than hate. He wanted to convey that indifference was worse than hate or anger. Throughout his speech, he utilizes the convincing elements ethos, pathos, and logos to communicate to his audience that empathy make us human. Elie Wiesel successfully portrays his theories in the dangers of ignorance, by adding anaphora and spreading ethos, pathos and logos.

“Fifty-four years ago to the day, a young Jewish boy from a small town in the Carpathian Mountains woke up, not far from Goethe’s beloved Weimar, in a place of eternal infamy called Buchenwald”. Elie Wiesel shows his ethos very well throughout the speech. He started talking about a little tale about a young Jewish kid and the interesting fact was that he never specifically mention was that the young kid was he talking about was himself. Wiesel has been a Professor of humanities at the University of Boston Andrew Mellon since 1976. In the 1986, he won many prizes and honors; the Nobel Peace Prize and Presidential Medal of Freedom. He was also the founding chairman of the Holocaust Memorial in the United States. Over 40 books of Wiesel’s have been published, including Night, an autobiography about his Holocaust experiences. Although the Millenium lecture public was not acquainted with the tragic story of Wiesel after hearing his lecture for his artistic ethos, they would comprehend it.

Wiesel shows pathos throughout the speech very well. Indifference is the biggest tragedy in our modern era. It is all around. The indifferent are cruel and unemotional with their indifference to the pain of others so varied. For example, ignorance, fear, benefit, authority, and dominance. People’s indifference to suffering, torture and other people’s murders continues to be a subject of human tragedy. It is the inhumanity of mankind. Wiesel is guilty towards indifference to his fellow’s pain. “So much violence; so much indifference”.

Wiesel used logos by bringing up history in his speech. When he was in concentration camps he spoke about what happened. He also pointed out how people are not supportive when things are happening now. It’s like we do not matter. They are just standing by and staring at all the bad things. “And now we knew, we learned, we discovered that the Pentagon knew, the State Department knew”.

The purpose of Wiesel’s speech is to convince the audience of victims of injustice and cruelty not to become indifferent. The speaker hopes to show compassion for those who suffer injustices worldwide in the 21st century. He argues that to be indifferent to that suffering is what makes the human being inhuman. Indifference, after all, is more dangerous than anger and hatred. “Rooted in our tradition, some of us felt that to be abandoned by humanity then was not the ultimate. We felt that to be abandoned by God was worse than to be punished by Him”.

Wiesel uses the rhetorical devices of emotional appeals, questions, and clear and effective vocabulary to get the audience thinking. “Gratitude is a word that I cherish. Gratitude is what defines the humanity of the human being”. He also uses feelings and beliefs to convey what he feels about this world’s ignorance and what he has done for today’s people. Wiesel starts with questions, and then gives moving explanations in the main part of his speech. World Wars, civil wars, massacres, bloodbaths from various countries and even Hiroshima’s disaster. All of these explanations are to illustrate that the viewer is generally indifferent. Yet he explains that being indifferent is worse than being angry or feeling hate because anger is inventive, and hatred is at least reactive. It is the only way to compare emotional indifference. Getting dismissive can never get a response and it gets worse.

In conclusion, Elie Wiesel reveals the risks of indifference to this world and millennium. The consequences of indifference. With this speech, he aims to get the point that the bad things tend to affect if we are indifferent to life. He makes a comparison between hate and anger, and although you can get rid of your frustration and hate something until something happens, it will finally go away. He also wonders whether it is a kind of training or a lifestyle. He uses questions to ask the audience whether this is a philosophy or whether it might be a sort of quality to consider indifference. He demonstrates his point of’ dangering indifference’ by drawing on the ethic and emotional characteristically of our lives, by asking interesting questions that have such great information and feeling in them and the powerful, emotionally connected word choice.

Works Cited 

  1. Wiesel, Elie “The Perils of Indifference,” 12 April, 1999, White House, Washington, D.C. Keynote Speech.
  2. Wiesel, Elie. Person Interview. 1995.

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