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The Development of Rhetoric, Its Styles and Techniques

  • Subject: Literature
  • Topic: Rhetoric
  • Pages 4
  • Words: 1868
  • Published: 10 October 2020
  • Downloads: 14
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The act of persuasion is an ancient and delicate balance of art and science. Persuasion, in simple terms, is to coax someone through subtle techniques with the aim of changing their beliefs, intentions or decisions. To persuade someone is to convince them to act, think or believe in a certain way that you think is best. Persuasion is not only universal disregarding all forms of gender, age, linguistic and cultural barriers, but also omnipresent. Examples of persuasion can be seen from an infant trying to express their needs to its caretaker to a presidential candidate persuading the citizens during an election campaign. The need for persuasion and its indisputable power were so promising that it evolved into a set of principles of applicable theology known as rhetoric.

Rhetoric, also known as the art of persuasion, is defined as ‘the principles of training communicators — those seeking to persuade or inform’. The origin of rhetoric dates back to 2500 years ago in Ancient Greece where this conscientious art was of paramount importance and was closely linked to the public, private and political lives of the people – both powerful and ordinary. Rhetoric emerged at a time where philosophy and politics were deeply intertwined and soon became the linchpin of classical education. It was not only considered as an effective tool but also a necessary skill that needed to be studied and taught by the wealthy and the powerful to be used in courts and public speaking to sway the common people. Rhetoric soon manifested itself into various forms such as poetry, speeches, plays, chants, images, etc. One of such divergent forms of rhetoric is paralanguage. Changes in intonation, rhythm, and stress of our voices combined with facial expressions of anger, fear and hope to manipulate the audience come under the wide definition of paralanguage. In other words, rhetoric not only involves words but also facial expressions and body language that mirror your speech to effectively persuade the audience.

Perhaps, one the earliest and most significant classical treatise of the fundamental doctrines of rhetoric was Aristotle’s The Art of Rhetoric which explains persuading techniques in comprehensive detail. At the very beginning of his treatise, Aristotle states that rhetoric and dialectic (logic) share a connection, in the sense that they are both within the awareness of all men and do not require any special knowledge to grasp its principles and functions. It is interesting to point out that, throughout his books, Aristotle seemed to always address the ‘men’ of his period. This was because it was generally the men that dominated the political and legal spheres of life and bore the privilege of making important decisions that affected the general public such as having the right to vote. Nonetheless, The Art of Rhetoric was and continues to be an important classical compilation and classification of the art of persuasion. Moreover, it is divided into three books delving into matters about the methods of persuasion, in-depth analysis of each of the aforementioned methods and lexis and presentation. In his books, he identifies three main techniques of persuasion that still prove to be the leading strategies: logos, pathos, and ethos. Logos is a technique dealing with matters based on reason and sound judgment. It demands evidence over emotions, information over insight and appeals to the ethics of knowledge, transparency and, reliability. In other words, the power of logos is in its speech itself, devoid of any external influence on the content of the argument. Moreover, it assumes that its audiences have a good intellectual capability and moral capacity to be able to come to a logical conclusion if they were to be presented with all the facts and reasons clearly and impartially. This can be achieved through analogies, examples, enthymeme and, syllogism. Analogies and examples are similarities drawn from real-life situations while enthymeme and syllogism are based on apparent facts that are globally accepted.

Aristotle further solidifies the previously mentioned connection between rhetoric and dialectic by claiming that example and enthymeme is the rhetorical version of dialectic’s induction and syllogism. Examples of logos are found in literature such as Shakespeare’s Othello and present-day circumstances like a business organization improving its quality and quantity based on statistics, data and modern research. Pathos, however, appeals to human emotions and sentimentality. This strategy requires an acute awareness of the audience’s emotional intelligence so that various techniques can be deployed to skillfully manipulate them into a desired emotional state. It aims to influence the listeners emotionally, often giving little importance to, or completely disregarding factual evidence. Aristotle also explains when and how to spark the desired emotions by paying attention to factors like the emotional state of the audience, specific people and circumstances that trigger these emotional responses. Literary examples include Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice while modern-day examples include advertisements that appeal to emotions of pity and love such as orphanages and adoption centers encouraging people to adopt children. Ethos draws its persuasive quality from the charisma or the character of the speaker. When the public holds a good opinion of the speaker in terms of honor, integrity, prestige, and position, they are more willing to listen and easily persuaded by the speaker’s judgment. Literary examples include Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mocking Bird while modern-day use of the strategy includes involvement of professionals and experts with a credible background by scientific or historical documentaries to endorse the authenticity of their information. Persuasive types and strategies have evolved over the years, branching into wider and more nuanced forms such as repetition, cause, and effect, comparing and contrasting, imagery, antithesis, rhetorical question, anacoluthon, chiasmus, metaphor, hyperbole, metonymy and much more.

In addition to the strategies, Aristotle also lays out three different types of persuasive speeches and the appropriate time to use them namely: forensic, epideictic and deliberative. Forensic speeches seek to blame or defend a case and are mainly seen in courtrooms. This kind of speech deals with past behaviors and actions. Epideictic rhetoric is ceremonial; often involving a display of oratory skill with the intent to raise someone’s honor through excessive praise or tarnish it through exaggerated criticism and the best time to use it is at the present. Deliberative speaks of the future and involves the speaker either persuading the public or dissuading them with a goal in mind. It is, therefore, evident that along with strategies and techniques, one often has to be aware of the kind of language and ensure the type of oratory is in accordance with the situation and timing of the deliverance.

One of the most controversial and historical speeches that revolutionized women’s rights is by Sojourner Truth which embodies both poetry and rhetoric devices in a perfectly delicate balance. In her speech ‘Ain’t I a Woman?’ she combines the need to abolish the discriminatory slave system prevalent at the time while advocating for equal rights for American women at Women’s Right Convention held in Ohio in 1851. Following is the extract of her speech:

That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man – when I could get it – and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain’t I a woman?

Then they talk about this thing in the head; what’s this they call it? [member of audience whispers, ‘intellect’] That’s it, honey. What’s that got to do with women’s rights or negroes’ rights? If my cup won’t hold but a pint, and yours holds a quart, wouldn’t you be mean not to let me have my little half measure full?

Obliged to you for hearing me, and now old Sojourner ain’t got nothing more to say.

Truth’s rebellious speech brims with rhetorical devices. While her speech overflows with anger, agony, and suffering, it is evident that Truth makes logic and factual evidence to be the lens through which she views the world. In other words, she appeals to logos in her revolutionary speech. She speaks in the form of a narrative using simple words rather than a flowery language, in solidarity of the uneducated minority and underrepresented and as an indication of her rather modest background. The phrase ‘Ain’t I a woman?’ performs the dual function of being a rhetorical question and repetition. It appears after a detailed account of every struggle she endured, almost as if to say ‘Do I really deserve this unjust treatment?’ .This form of repetition acts as an emotional trigger that incites the need for equality and justice. In fact, the repetition occurs four times throughout her speech to have the desired effect. Another rhetoric device she incorporates into her speech is compare and contrast. The first comparison describes how white women are ‘helped into carriages and lifted over ditches’ whereas the African-American women are left to plough the fields, bear the lashes and sell their children to slavery. The second comparison speaks of the inequality of rights and recognition between men and women, despite women working as hard as their counterparts. The third example speaks of the inhumane and unjust treatment of slaves. Through her examples, she connects the injustice committed towards black people and inequality towards all women, making the corrupt system as the common enemy. Through these powerful juxtapositions, Truth incites feelings of guilt, disgust and most of all, rebelliousness in the hearts of her audience. That is, she appeals to pathos through clever use of personal anecdotes and shared experiences of oppression. The ending line ‘and now old Sojourner ain’t got nothing more to say’ was a calculated one, compelling her audience to deeply reflect upon her words, realign their perspectives and work towards creating a more equitable and just society. In other words, she adopts the deliberative rhetoric, urging her audience to stop the oppressive and unethical justice system for a better future. In short, through clever use of logos, compelling compare and contrast, powerful juxtapositions, personal anecdotes, controversial allusion, repetition, rhetorical question, and deliberative rhetoric, Truth’s speech continues to spark emotions of revolution and reformation several decades later.

In conclusion, the use, style, and techniques of rhetoric have evolved throughout the centuries, etching itself into every sphere and dimension of our lives. Therefore, rhetoric has the power to topple a kingdom and to build it back from the ground, revolutionize societies and cause a reform for better or for worse. History stands witness to that. It is then, our responsibility as individuals, to learn it and teach it so that we’re aware when it is used against us, blinding us from facts and driving us through emotions. In short, rhetoric certainly holds the power to either make or break a nation.

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