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Rhetorical Analysis

by David Barnhill last modified Oct 06, 2010 12:11 PM

Literary analysis often concerns the ideas and themes in work. Rhetorical analysis is a way to examine other aspects: the elements involved, the techniques used, the context for the writing, and the author’s overall stance. This type of analysis helps the reader get a sharper sense of the literary aspects of the writing, and its rhetorical dimension as a piece of communication. It also helps stimulate a different type of class discussion.

A thorough rhetorical analysis of a short essay could end up being longer than the primary text itself. The analysis should be around two pages, double spaced, one inch margins, Times New Roman, 12 point font.

Important: structure your analysis as four paragraphs, one for each of the aspects listed below. In the first sentence of a paragraph, communicate to the reader what aspect you are discussing. Do not include an introductory or concluding paragraph in addition to the four that are focused on elements, techniques, structure, and stance.

When you mention elements or techniques, give a brief example to illustrate your point or at least cite the page number where an example can be found.

1. Elements

How deeply does the author go into these elements? For instance, does the essay contain a great deal of factual information on natural history, or some general observations? Does the author’s political critique go into detail, or is it a general complaint?

Which of Barnhill's Ten Elements of Nature Writing are included in the essay? Which ones are emphasized and which ones used sparingly or not at all? Is there a shift during the essay from a predominance of some aspects to a greater use of others?

How are these elements related to each other? For instance, how is the ecopsychology connected to the philosophy of nature and the political critique?

2. Techniques

What techniques, images, voice, or stylistic traits are used in the essay? Distinguish those used for different elements of nature writing. What effects do they have on the reader? Which techniques are most effective, and why? Which techniques don’t work well, and why?

Keep in mind the following:

  • use of imagery: types of imagery, patterns in their use, reference to physical sensations such as hearing and touch
  • word choice: figurative language, simile and metaphor
  • word sounds: alliteration and assonance
  • sentence structure and length
  • use of questions, commands
  • use of repetition

3. Structure

How is the essay, story, or poem structured? Are there clearly distinguished parts? What is the relationship among the parts? Is there a progression or development as the essay, story, or poem continues? What is the effect on the reader of structuring the text this way?

4. Rhetorical Stance

What personal, cultural, or historical situation does the essay arise out of? Is it the author’s attempt to establish a way of life in harmony with nature? Is it some environmental crisis? Is it an encounter with other cultures and their way of relating to nature? Is it a personal tragedy?

Who is the implied audience for the essay? For instance, is it a fellow nature lover, or someone the author is trying to convince about a political issue?

What kind of persona does the author have? For instance, is the author a humble apprentice of nature speaking of ways to live in harmony with the land. Or is she a “jeremiad” shouting warnings to a blind society? Or is she a naturalist, detailing facts about natural history. (There are many other kinds of persona.) Is the author pessimistic or optimistic? Deeply serious or light-hearted? Are the several types of personas evident?

Does the rhetorical stance change over the course of the text? Why do you think it does?

What is the quality and degree of impact on the reader of this rhetorical stance? Is it effective or counterproductive or in some ways both?



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by David Barnhill last modified Oct 06, 2010 12:11 PM