Rhetorical Analysis of Brent Staples' Just Walk on by

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About this sample


Words: 868 |

Pages: 2|

5 min read

Published: Aug 6, 2021

Words: 868|Pages: 2|5 min read

Published: Aug 6, 2021

Table of contents

  1. Cause and Effect: Staples’s Use of Structure
  2. Diction: Staples’s Choice of Words
  3. Imagery: Staples’s Use of Vision
  4. Irony: Staples’s Use of Sarcasm

Brent Staples is an African American man born in 1951 who received his first Bachelor’s degree in behavioral sciences at Widener University at 22 years old. Staples continued on to graduate with a Master's degree in psychology at the University of Chicago and subsequently he graduated with a PhD in the same field (Brent Staples). Originally, this article was published in Ms. Magazine in 1986 under the name 'Just Walk on By'. Then, a year later, Staples revised it and titled it as “Black Men and Public Space,” for publication in Harper's Magazine. At first, Staples seems like just a man discussing unfortunate experiences. Knowing more about Staples and his challenging past can help the reader to understand Staples’ choice of narration throughout his thesis in this essay which considers the unfair treatment he receives by simply being a black man.

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Cause and Effect: Staples’s Use of Structure

Staples form of structure throughout this entire narrative is cause and effect. He addresses multiple different occasions, in a somewhat chronological order, where he encountered a reaction from someone of which had no justification. His first incident occurred on a walk on a college campus of which he attended and the woman feared for her life. Another incident he discusses is when he was late for work at an editor’s office, so he was in a hurry to get inside the building and some individuals confused him for someone who was coming to rob the building. Staples uses this type of structure because it allows the reader to first hear his side of the story and what he was actually doing versus what the other people thought he was doing. By doing so, the reader is able to better understand the feelings Staples experiences.

Diction: Staples’s Choice of Words

In the realm of the diction outlined in this essay, Staples was meticulous with his choice of words because he wants the readers to develop an emotional connection with the character in the text. In the beginning of this narrative, Staples starts off by writing “My first victim was a white woman, well dressed, probably in her early twenties.” From this sentence alone it is detectable that Staples chooses diction as an effective way to communicate his story to his readers. Intending his audience to be intelligent and open-minded, Staples chooses such heavy, impactful words because many of these scenarios are memories that recount undesirable experiences where other individuals saw him as a threat – for no justifiable reason. Staples chooses words that not only portray his professional appearance which contradict the opinion of the characters in this story, he is also diligent in his decision making to choose words that represent the harshness of these prejudice experiences.

Imagery: Staples’s Use of Vision

In another paragraph of this essay, Staples’s refers to himself as “one of the good boys.” To my best interpretation, he does this to support his argument that his character did not warrant these experiences to occur. Even though Staples has clearly demonstrated himself otherwise, throughout this article Staples attempts to remind his audience about the common misconceptions that many Caucasians have about African Americans, sometimes thinking they are all criminals. For this reason, Staples’s uses adjectives and expressive words to create a feeling of sympathy from the reader. I believe Staples’s really wants to put the readers in his shoes and make them feel how he felt in the moment. “She cast back a worried glance. To her, the youngish black man – a broad six feet two inches with a beard and billowing hair, both hands shoved into the pockets of a bulky military jacket – seemed menacingly close” (Staples). Here, when a woman tried to avoid him while walking down a street, you could sense and visualize the anger Staples was feeling.

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Irony: Staples’s Use of Sarcasm

There are subtle hints of irony throughout the text. Irony can be seen as humorous and humor is very useful form of rhetoric used by Staples. Rhea refers to irony as an effective form of communication because it has to ability to enhance self-perception. After a long not of not being able to sleep, Staples decided to take a walk around campus when he realized the woman he was walking behind was becoming more and more terrified. When Staples writes, “As a softy who is scarcely able to take a knife to a raw chicken – let alone hold one to a person’s throat – I was surprised, embarrassed, and dismayed all at once,” he is referring to how he felt when he realized the woman thought she was being followed by a mugger. Not only is he anything even close to a threat, he describes himself as a “softy.” We can refer back to the quote used in Diction section of this essay when Staples uses the term “victim.” The irony in this is that the woman felt she was or was going to fall victim to the actions of this man that was following her (Staples) when in all reality it was Staples who was the victim of this story. It was he who was the one who was stereotyped for the worse and she who was only a victim of her racist thoughts. 

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Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

Cite this Essay

Rhetorical Analysis Of Brent Staples’ Just Walk On By. (2021, August 06). GradesFixer. Retrieved June 19, 2024, from
“Rhetorical Analysis Of Brent Staples’ Just Walk On By.” GradesFixer, 06 Aug. 2021,
Rhetorical Analysis Of Brent Staples’ Just Walk On By. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 19 Jun. 2024].
Rhetorical Analysis Of Brent Staples’ Just Walk On By [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2021 Aug 06 [cited 2024 Jun 19]. Available from:
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