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Passages for Rhetorical Analysis: Applying the Figures of Speech

Ten Topics for Review

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These ten discussion questions provide opportunities to apply some of the key concepts and terms used in rhetorical analyses of essays, speeches, poems, short stories, and novels.

Before getting down to work, you may find it helpful to review the following terms: accumulation, anticlimax, antithesis, apposition, chiasmus, climax, enthymeme, ethos, identification, irony, logos, metaphor, pathos, simile, tenor, tricolon, understatement, vehicle, and voice.

  1. Discuss the effects created by antithesis and climax in the final portion of Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.

    But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow, this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have hallowed it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here; while it can never forget what they did here.

    It is rather for us the living, we here be dedicated to the great task remaining before us--that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion--that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.


  2. Identify and discuss the ethical, pathetic, and/or logical appeals in this excerpt from Richard Nixon’s “Checkers” speech of 1952.

    Well, then the question arises, you say, "Well, how do you pay for these and how can you do it legally?" And there are several ways that it can be done, incidentally, and that it is done legally in the United States Senate and in the Congress. The first way is to be a rich man. I don't happen to be a rich man, so I couldn't use that one. Another way that is used is to put your wife on the pay roll. Let me say, incidentally, that my opponent, my opposite number for the Vice Presidency on the Democratic ticket, does have his wife on the pay roll and has had it--her on his pay roll for the ten years--for the past ten years. Now just let me say this: That's his business, and I'm not critical of him for doing that. You will have to pass judgment on that particular point.

    But I have never done that for this reason: I have found that there are so many deserving stenographers and secretaries in Washington that needed the work that I just didn't feel it was right to put my wife on the pay roll.

    My wife's sitting over here. She's a wonderful stenographer. She used to teach stenography and she used to teach shorthand in high school. That was when I met her. And I can tell you folks that she's worked many hours at night and many hours on Saturdays and Sundays in my office, and she's done a fine job, and I am proud to say tonight that in the six years I've been in the House and the Senate of the United States, Pat Nixon has never been on the Government pay roll. . . .

    One other thing I probably should tell you, because if I don't they'll probably be saying this about me, too. We did get something, a gift, after the election. A man down in Texas heard Pat on the radio mention the fact that our two youngsters would like to have a dog. And believe it or not, the day before we left on this campaign trip we got a message from Union Station in Baltimore, saying they had a package for us. We went down to get it. You know what it was? It was a little cocker spaniel dog in a crate that he'd sent all the way from Texas, black and white, spotted. And our little girl Tricia, the six year old, named it "Checkers." And you know, the kids, like all kids, love the dog, and I just want to say this, right now, that regardless of what they say about it, we're gonna keep it.



  3. Define the terms tenor and vehicle, and show where and how each is embodied in Emily Dickinson’s metaphorical poem “Wild Nights.”

    Wild nights! Wild nights!
    Were I with thee,
    Wild nights should be
    Our luxury!

    Futile the winds
    To a heart in port,
    Done with the compass,
    Done with the chart.

    Rowing in Eden!
    Ah! the sea!
    Might I but moor
    To-night in thee!


  4. After reading the opening of Edgar Allan Poe’s story “The Tell-Tale Heart,” identify the stylistic devices and rhetorical strategies that actively discourage a conventional reader from identifying with the narrator.

    TRUE!--nervous--very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why WILL you say that I am mad? The disease had sharpened my senses--not destroyed, not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell. How then am I mad? Hearken! and observe how healthily--how calmly, I can tell you the whole story.

    It is impossible to say how first the idea entered my brain, but, once conceived, it haunted me day and night. Object there was none. Passion there was none. I loved the old man. He had never wronged me. He had never given me insult. For his gold I had no desire. I think it was his eye! Yes, it was this! One of his eyes resembled that of a vulture--a pale blue eye with a film over it. Whenever it fell upon me my blood ran cold, and so by degrees--very gradually--I made up my mind to take the life of the old man, and thus rid myself of the eye for ever.

    Now this is the point. You fancy me mad. Madmen know nothing. But you should have seen me. You should have seen how wisely I proceeded--with what caution--with what foresight--with what dissimulation, I went to work! I was never kinder to the old man than during the whole week before I killed him.



  5. Robert Creeley’s poem “Oh No” has been subject to radically different readings, some viewing it as deeply comforting and others as profoundly disturbing. Taking into account the nature of irony and of metaphor as well as the specific language of the poem, discuss how such a seemingly simple poem could invite such contrary responses.

    Oh No!

    If you wander far enough
    you will come to it
    and when you get there
    they will give you a place to sit

    for yourself only, in a nice chair,
    and all your friends will be there
    with smiles on their faces
    and they will likewise all have places.

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