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Employments of Ethos in Richard Stark’s The Hunter
In The Hunter, Richard Stark’s antiheroic protagonist Parker is portrayed as a criminal with a grudge and a score to settle. Despite his many deplorable actions throughout the book, Stark, a pseudonym or alternate name of Donald E. Westlake, manages to portray Parker’s character in a more heroic light despite the fundamentally villainous qualities that Parker possesses as a criminal and borderline sociopath through the language that Stark adopts in his descriptions of Parker’s personal qualities and actions. This act of moral legitimization, however, demands specific audience to whom the author must appeal in order for the ethical appeal to character to be successful in reaching out to the audience’s moral biases. The personal characteristics of Parker, the protagonist, in addition to other specific details and themes present in the book reveal that intended audience member that Stark addresses is most likely young, white, male, educated, and positioned on a lower income spectrum. This essay will illustrate that in order to convince this specific audience of Parker’s credibility and positive qualities as a nontraditional antiheroic protagonist, Stark extensively uses rhetorical appeals through ethos so that he might have highlighted the more heroic qualities that Parker might or might not genuinely possess. Stark accomplishes this feat for the reason that he portrays Parker as a figure who shares the values of justice, canniness, courage, organization, realism, and masculinity with the generally white and male population to which he sought to appeal in the 1960s when he wrote the novel while simultaneously diminishing the roles of women and people of color into roles more like those of props than as completely realized characters.
Audience Age + Gender/Race/Nationality
The establishment of rhetorical narratives possesses a key role in fictional writing in how writers construct realistic, human characters. Rhetorical Pathos and logos, emotional and rational appeals, can be used to help an author to flesh out a character, but these argumentative techniques fail to capture a complete profile of a figure on their own. In order to create relatable characters, an author must often employ rhetorical ethos. Ethos entails an employment of rhetorical techniques so that a figure’s character can be established while addressing an audience and to influence how an audience perceives a figure, whether through illustrations of how inherently moral a character’s personal character might be on its own or through juxtaposition of a character’s personal traits through contrasting these qualities with those of others. One can witness this technique of establishing personal ethos in politicians who seek to create an “us versus them” mentality in order to prove their own moral superiority and to show that they are the superior choices for these reasons of comparison. In regard to the audience that Richard Stark intended to address through his ethical appeals toward the character of Parker, the social cues present in the novel and stark contrasts between how various groups of people are portrayed in the text reveal who would most likely be found reading the text.
There are several indications throughout the book that suggest the target audience would consist of white American youths, in particular presenting these rhetorical narratives to male readers. Not only is the majority of the novel’s primary characters male, but the novel furthermore fails to give a more than superficial glance into the female characters’ psyches and motivations. Stark’s perhaps intentional exclusion of definitively feminine narratives fundamentally makes it more difficult for female readers to identify with the events that take place in the novel, although this exclusion might have instead been the result of a general trend for male writers to prioritize male narratives. If the former were the case, it would suggest that the male audience members would take precedence in Richard Stark’s intentions to persuade his audience to view the character of Parker more favorably. In addition to the exclusion of feminine narratives, Stark moreover portrays the women who are present in the novel as status symbols as opposed to fully realized figures. Stark illustrates this sexist sentiment that women are disposable and upgradable, in contrast to his more positive portrayal of Parker, in writing that “Someday… he’d have four rooms like this, and a blonde like that piece in the red bra. That was good stuff” (Stark 72). Although such statements fundamentally betray the questionable character that Parker possesses, at least in the modern context, such sexist attitudes in the text would appeal to the historical manner of thinking for the average man. Such expressions of objectification toward women would ultimately dissuade the average woman from finding many positive qualities in Parker for the reason that the average woman experiences similar sexist commentary on the daily basis. Illustrations of casual sexism in the context of The Hunter help to reiterate the proof that Richard Stark intended to write for a male audience in establishing the ethos of Parker’s characters.
Throughout the course of The Hunter, women are not the only group of people that Richard Stark chooses to put into an othering category in an effort to highlight the character of his protagonist as one of being a member of the in group. This sequence of juxtapositions between Parker’s identifiability and the otherness of other people serves as a strong rhetorical appeal in his writing to speak to his targeted audience through established ethos. Stark, in this manner, singles out people of color as stock characters to exhibit a sense of otherness from Parker’s position of making himself identifiable for the intended audience of The Hunter, which continues to suggest the importance of white men in the novel’s ethical structure. This appeal to ethos through prejudices in Stark’s target audience can be seen by a reader when Stark writes that “Three colored boys were walking in his direction on this side, wearing raincoats and porkpie hats and singing in falsetto” (Stark 181). The fact that Richard Stark felt the need to refer to the race of these people in this statement while referring to them what seems to be a racial caricature seems to suggest that Stark meant to signal that these individuals were an anomaly in the context of the social dynamics present in the course of the novel. This would ultimately signify that the main characters were, by default, white and, therefore, in the perception of the novel’s intended reader, what is “normal.” Richard Stark’s portrayal of these people of color in such an anomalous fashion, although perhaps a relic of the age in which The Hunter was written, speaks to internalized prejudices toward people of color that, by and large, remain prevalent in American society, along with the continued toleration toward the previously mentioned sexist attitudes toward women. For the reason that the novel takes place in the United States, one could take general American attitudes, especially those of the 20th century, into account in deciphering how the text speaks to its audience through the textual ethos. These attitudes in contemporary American society would allow for the themes present in the ethical arguments present in The Hunter to continue to appeal to modern readers who would agree with the fundamentally sexist and racist portrayals in the attempt to allow the antiheroic character of Parker to be received more positively.
In his novel The Hunter, Richard Stark establishes the ethos of the book’s protagonist through appeals to the deeply ingrained social and cultural biases of an audience that would primarily be composed of white men, particularly those of lower socioeconomic levels, which can be inferred from the relatively unrefined style of language used within the novel. The incorporation of such relatable qualities into the antihero Parker and through the repeated reiterations of instances of commonly held biases by the majority of white, American men, at least in the context of the 1960s when Richard Stark originally wrote the novel. Although one would, at least in the modern context, believe that creating such a biased format of expression for a character would make a character less likeable, the usage of these specific qualities in the creation of Parker’s character assisted Richard Stark in mustering the ethos that was necessary in order to allow Parker to reach out to the target audience so that he might have convinced them that he was a likeable character. Despite however problematic that a modern reader might interpret these sexist or racist inclinations present in Parker’s words and actions, one could interpret Stark’s accomplishment of his portrayal of the seeminly sociopathic criminal Parker as a successful execution of rhetorical ethos, particularly with the understanding of the time in which The Hunter was published. Such an effective seduction of the reader to feel genuine empathy toward a character the likes of Parker illuminates the dangers and applications of ethos in circumstances to be found in real life. Regardless of however immoral a figure, either fictional or from reality, might be, there are always rhetorical spins that can be taken in order to craft a relatable ethos for the average person.
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