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- On the Rainy River
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Summary and Analysis The Things They Carried
An unnamed narrator describes in third person the thoughts and actions of Jimmy Cross, the lieutenant of an Army unit on active combat duty in the Vietnam War. Lt. Cross is preoccupied by thoughts of Martha, a young woman he dated before he joined the Army. He thinks about letters she wrote him; he thinks about whether or not she is a virgin; he thinks about how much he loves her and wants her to love him. Her letters do not indicate that she feels the same way.
The narrator lists things that the soldiers carry with them, both tangible and intangible, such as Lt. Cross's picture of and feelings for Martha. Other members of the unit are introduced through descriptions of the things they carry, such as Henry Dobbins who carries extra food, Ted Lavender who carries tranquilizer pills, and Kiowa who carries a hunting hatchet. O'Brien introduces readers to the novel's primary characters by describing the articles that the soldiers carry. The level of detail O'Brien offers about the characters is expanded upon and illuminated in the chapters that follow, though O'Brien distills the essence of each characters' personality through the symbolic items each carries. Henry Dobbins carries a machine gun and his girlfriend's pantyhose. Dave Jensen carries soap, dental floss, foot powder, and vitamins. Mitchell Sanders carries condoms, brass knuckles, and the unit's radio. Norman Bowker carries a diary. Kiowa carries a volume of the New Testament and moccasins. Rat Kiley carries his medical kit, brandy, comic books, and M&M's candy. The narrator offers additional detail about selected items; for example, the poncho Ted Lavender carries will later be used by his fellow soldiers to carry his dead body.
This device is an example of the author and narrator embedding small details in the text that will be further explained later in the book. It is important to note, too, how the details are selective; they are recalled by a character, the unnamed narrator of the chapter. The details of what each man carries are funneled through the memory of this narrator.
O'Brien details at great length what all the men carry: standard gear, weapons, tear gas, explosives, ammunitions, entrenching tools, starlight scopes, grenades, flak jackets, boots, rations, and the Army newsletter. They also carry their grief, terror, love, and longing, with poise and dignity. O'Brien's extended catalog of items creates a picture in the reader's mind that grows incrementally. O'Brien's technique also allows each character to be introduced with a history and a unique place within the group of men.
Lt. Cross is singled out from the group, and O'Brien offers the most detail about his interior feelings and thoughts. Many of these soldiers "hump," or carry, photographs, and Lieutenant Cross has an action shot of Martha playing volleyball. He also carries memories of their date and regrets that he did not try to satisfy his desire to become intimate with her by tying her up and touching her knee. O'Brien stresses that Lt. Cross carries all these things, but in addition carries the lives of his men.
Even as O'Brien opens The Things They Carried, he sets forth the novel's primary themes of memory and imagination and the opportunity for mental escape that these powers offer. For example, as Lt. Cross moves through the rigorous daily motions of combat duty, his mind dwells on Martha. Importantly, as he thinks about Martha, he does not merely recall memories of her; instead he imagines what might be, such as "romantic camping trips" into the White Mountains in New Hampshire. O'Brien describes these longings of Lt. Cross as "pretending." Pretending is a form of storytelling, that is, telling stories to oneself. O'Brien underscores the importance of Lt. Cross's actions by emphasizing the artifacts — Martha's letters and photograph — and characterizes Lt. Cross as the carrier of these possessions as well as of his love for Martha.
O'Brien moves from employing the literary technique of describing the soldiers' physical artifacts to introducing the novel's primary characters. The minute details he provides about objects that individuals carry is telling, and particular attention should be paid to these details because they foreshadow the core narratives that comprise the novel. This technique of cataloging the things the soldiers carry also functions to create fuller composites of the characters, and by extension make the characters seem more real to readers.
This aesthetic of helping readers connect with his characters is O'Brien's primary objective in the novel, to make readers feel the story he presents as much as is physically and emotionally possible, as if it were real. Though the minutiae that O'Brien includes — for example the weight of a weapon, the weight of a radio, the weight of a grenade in ounces — seems superfluous, it is supposed to be accretive in his readers' imaginations so that they can begin to feel the physical weight of the burdens of war, as well as, eventually, the psychological and emotional burdens (so much as it is possible for a non-witness to war to perceive). O'Brien's attention to sensory detail also supports this primary objective of evoking a real response in the reader.
With Lavender's death, O'Brien creates a tension between the "actuality" of Lt. Cross's participation in battle and his interior, imagined fantasies that give him refuge. In burning Martha's letters and accepting blame for Lavender's death, Cross's conflicting trains of thought signal the reader to be cautious when deciding what is truth or fantasy and when assigning meaning to these stories. While he destroyed the physical accoutrements, the mementos of Martha, Lt. Cross continues to carry the memory of her with him. To that memory is also added the burden of grief and guilt. Despite this emotional burden, O'Brien, as he continues in the following chapter, begins to highlight the central question of the novel: Why people carry the things they do?
rucksack A kind of knapsack strapped over the shoulders.
foxhole A hole dug in the ground as a temporary protection for one or two soldiers against enemy gunfire or tanks.
perimeter A boundary strip where defenses are set up.
heat tabs Fuel pellets used for heating C rations.
C rations A canned ration used in the field in World War II.
R & R Rest and recuperation, leave.
Than Khe (also Khe Sahn) A major battle in the Tet Offensive, the siege lasted well over a month in the beginning of 1968. Khe Sahn was thought of as an important strategic location for both the Americans and the North Vietnamese. American forces were forced to withdraw from Khe Sahn.
SOP Abbreviation for standard operating procedure.
RTO Radio telephone operator who carried a lightweight infantry field radio.
grunt A U.S. infantryman.
hump To travel on foot, especially when carrying and transporting necessary supplies for field combat.
platoon A military unit composed of two or more squads or sections, normally under the command of a lieutenant: it is a subdivision of a company, troop, and so on.
medic A medical noncommissioned officer who gives first aid in combat; aidman; corpsman.
M-60 American-made machine gun.
PFC Abbreviation for Private First Class.
Spec 4 Specialist Rank, having no command function; soldier who carries out orders.
M-16 The standard American rifle used in Vietnam after 1966.
flak jacket A vestlike, bulletproof jacket worn by soldiers.
KIA Abbreviation for killed in action, to be killed in the line of duty.
chopper A helicopter.
dustoff Medical evacuation by helicopter.
Claymore antipersonnel mine An antipersonnel mine that scatters shrapnel in a particular, often fan-shaped, area when it explodes.
Starlight scope A night-vision telescope that enables a user to see in the dark.
tunnel complexes The use of tunnels by the Viet Cong as hiding places, caches for food and weapons, headquarter complexes and protection against air strikes and artillery fire was a characteristic of the Vietnam war.
The Stars and Stripes A newsletter-style publication produced for servicemen by the U.S. Army.
Bronze Star A U.S. military decoration awarded for heroic or meritorious achievement or service in combat not involving aerial flight.
Purple Heart A U.S. military decoration awarded to members of the armed forces wounded or killed in action by or against an enemy: established in 1782 and re-established in 1932.
entrenching tool A shovel-like tool, among its other uses, used to dig temporary fortifications such as foxholes.
freedom bird Any aircraft which returned servicemen to the U.S.
sin loi From Vietnamese, literally meaning excuse me, though servicemen came to understand the term as meaning too bad or tough luck.
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Home — Essay Samples — Literature — Books — The Things They Carried
Essays on The Things They Carried
The things they carried essay topics and outline examples, essay title 1: truth and fiction in "the things they carried".
Thesis Statement: Tim O'Brien blurs the lines between truth and fiction in "The Things They Carried" to convey the emotional and psychological truths of war experiences, demonstrating the power of storytelling as a coping mechanism.
- The Nature of Truth in Storytelling
- Examples of Fictional Elements in the Book
- The Emotional and Psychological Impact on Characters
- How Storytelling Helps Characters Cope
Essay Title 2: The Weight of Emotional Baggage in "The Things They Carried"
Thesis Statement: "The Things They Carried" by Tim O'Brien explores the heavy burden of emotional baggage carried by soldiers during the Vietnam War, emphasizing that these intangible loads can be just as impactful as physical ones.
- The Literal and Symbolic Items Carried by Soldiers
- Depictions of Emotional Baggage in the Stories
- The Interplay Between Physical and Emotional Loads
- The Long-Term Effects on Soldiers' Lives
Essay Title 3: Morality and Ethical Dilemmas in "The Things They Carried"
Thesis Statement: Tim O'Brien raises questions about morality and ethical dilemmas faced by soldiers in "The Things They Carried," illustrating the complex choices and consequences that war imposes on individuals.
- Situations of Moral Complexity in the Stories
- Character Reactions to Ethical Dilemmas
- Exploring the Themes of Guilt and Responsibility
- The Broader Commentary on the Vietnam War
The Views on Bravery as Highlighted in The Things They Carried
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The Disposition of Truth and Fiction in O'brien’s "The Things They Carried"
Tim o’brien's use of figurative language to portray the theme of death in the things they carried, the emotion of guilt in the things they carried, the topic of war and tim o'brien's intention in writting the things they carried, let us write you an essay from scratch.
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"The Things They Carried" by Tim O’brien: The Meaning of The Title
An insight into the emotions of war in the things they carried, courage and weakness in the things they carried.
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Guilt in The Things They Carried by Tim O'brien: Literary Analysis
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March 28, 1990, Tim O'Brien
Collection of interconnected short stories
Norman Bowker, Rat Kiley, Henry Dobbins, Lieutenant Jimmy Cross, Tim O'Brien
The narrative unfolds through series of interconnected short stories that depict a platoon of American soldiers' experiences during the Vietnam War, memories, and the items they carry with them. The protagonist, Lieutenant Jimmy Cross, grapples with his responsibilities as a leader and his longing for a girl back home. He carries letters and photographs from her, as well as guilt and regret for his preoccupation with her rather than the safety of his men. Other soldiers in the platoon carry personal belongings that hold sentimental value or serve as a form of escapism from the harsh reality of war. Each item carries its own significance, reflecting the unique stories and personalities of the soldiers. The novel explores the psychological impact of war on the soldiers, delving into themes of fear, trauma, loss, and the blurred boundaries between truth and fiction. O'Brien masterfully blurs the line between fact and fiction, emphasizing the power of storytelling and memory as a means of understanding and coping with the horrors of war. The novel serves as a powerful testament to the resilience, camaraderie, and sacrifice of those who have served in armed conflicts, inviting readers to reflect on the enduring impact of war on individuals and society as a whole.
The setting of "The Things They Carried" by Tim O'Brien is primarily during the Vietnam War, specifically focusing on the experiences of American soldiers deployed in Vietnam. The novel takes readers into the harsh and unforgiving environment of the war, transporting them to the jungles, rice paddies, and villages of Vietnam. The story unfolds in various locations, including the dense forests of Quang Ngai Province, the mountains near the border with Laos, and the riverside villages where the soldiers engage in combat and interact with the local Vietnamese population. O'Brien vividly describes the physical landscape, capturing the oppressive heat, the dense vegetation, and the constant sense of danger that permeates the air. In addition to the physical setting, the novel also explores the soldiers' mental and emotional landscapes. O'Brien delves into the interior worlds of the characters, portraying the weight of their experiences, the moral dilemmas they face, and the emotional burdens they carry. The setting becomes a reflection of the soldiers' internal struggles and serves as a backdrop for their personal transformations and battles with their own fears and demons. The temporal setting of the novel spans several years, from the early stages of the war to its aftermath. The narrative shifts back and forth in time, capturing the soldiers' memories, reflections, and the lasting impact of the war on their lives. O'Brien seamlessly weaves together past and present, blurring the boundaries of time and highlighting the enduring psychological and emotional effects of war.
The themes in "The Things They Carried" by Tim O'Brien serve as a lens through which the characters' stories are told, offering insights into the complexities of war, memory, storytelling, and the weight of personal burdens. One of the central themes of the novel is the concept of storytelling and its power to shape and give meaning to our lives. O'Brien delves into the nature of truth and fiction, blurring the boundaries between fact and imagination. The characters use storytelling as a way to cope with the horrors of war, to remember their fallen comrades, and to make sense of their own experiences. This theme highlights the role of narrative in shaping our understanding of the world and the ways in which stories can serve as a form of catharsis and healing. Another significant theme explored in the book is the weight of personal burdens and the psychological toll of war. The characters in "The Things They Carried" carry physical objects that symbolize their emotional and psychological burdens, such as letters, photographs, and personal mementos. These tangible items serve as a metaphor for the intangible burdens they carry, including guilt, fear, and trauma. O'Brien explores the ways in which these burdens shape the characters' identities and influence their actions, highlighting the heavy price they pay for their service. Memory and its unreliability is another prominent theme in the novel. O'Brien examines how memories of war can be fragmented, distorted, and selectively recalled, blurring the line between reality and perception. The characters grapple with the weight of their memories, often haunted by the past and struggling to reconcile their experiences with their present lives. This theme underscores the enduring impact of war on the human psyche and the challenges of preserving and making sense of personal histories. Additionally, "The Things They Carried" delves into the themes of camaraderie, sacrifice, and the moral complexities of war. The bonds formed among the soldiers become a source of strength and support amidst the chaos and brutality of combat. The novel explores the sacrifices made by individuals for the collective good, as well as the ethical dilemmas they face in navigating the blurred lines between right and wrong in the midst of war.
Symbolism plays a significant role in the novel, allowing O'Brien to convey complex ideas and emotions through objects and events. For example, the weighty physical objects that the soldiers carry, such as Lieutenant Cross's letters from Martha, symbolize the burden of their emotional and psychological baggage. The pebble that Lieutenant Cross carries represents his longing for love and connection amidst the harsh reality of war. These symbols enrich the story , highlighting the themes of burdens, longing, and the conflict between love and duty. Imagery is skillfully employed throughout the book, creating vivid and sensory experiences for the reader. O'Brien's descriptions of the Vietnam War landscape, the soldiers' surroundings, and the visceral details of combat immerse the reader in the characters' experiences. Through powerful imagery, the author captures the sights, sounds, and smells of war, enhancing the emotional impact of the narrative. Irony is used to illuminate the contradictions and complexities of war. O'Brien employs situational irony to underscore the absurdities of war, such as the ironic death of Ted Lavender, who carries tranquilizers but is killed in a moment of vulnerability. Verbal irony is also present in the soldiers' dark humor and sarcastic remarks, revealing their coping mechanisms in the face of unimaginable circumstances. Metafiction, a prominent literary device in the novel, blurs the line between fiction and reality. O'Brien acknowledges the act of storytelling and explores the nature of truth, memory, and the power of narrative. For instance, O'Brien admits to fictionalizing certain elements of the story, blurring the boundaries between fact and imagination. This metafictional aspect challenges the reader's perception of truth and invites contemplation on the nature of storytelling and the role of fiction in representing the complexities of war. Other literary devices employed in the novel include repetition, foreshadowing, and paradox. Repetition is used to emphasize certain ideas and motifs, such as the repetition of the phrase "They carried" to highlight the soldiers' burdens. Foreshadowing hints at the characters' fates and adds tension to the narrative, while paradox presents the contradictions and ambiguities of war, such as the notion of killing for the sake of preserving life.
"The Things They Carried" by Tim O'Brien has been adapted and represented in various forms of media, including film, theater, and music. These adaptations aim to capture the essence of the novel and bring its powerful themes and stories to a wider audience. One notable adaptation is the theatrical production of "The Things They Carried," which premiered in 2018. Adapted by Jim Stowell and directed by Sarah Diener, the play incorporates elements of storytelling, music, and multimedia to recreate the experiences of the soldiers in Vietnam. It utilizes the power of live performance to evoke the emotional intensity and psychological impact of war, engaging audiences in a visceral and immersive manner. Another notable representation of "The Things They Carried" is the 1990 short film adaptation directed by Peter Werner. This film, also titled "The Things They Carried," offers a visual interpretation of select stories from the book, bringing the characters and events to life on screen. Through the medium of film, the adaptation captures the visual imagery and the emotional depth of O'Brien's writing, allowing viewers to witness the harrowing realities of war. In addition to these direct adaptations, the influence of "The Things They Carried" can be seen in various songs, music videos, and other artistic expressions. Artists have drawn inspiration from the themes and stories of the novel to create their own works that reflect the experiences of soldiers in war. For example, Bruce Springsteen's song "The Wall" and Pearl Jam's song "I Am Mine" touch upon similar themes of memory, loss, and the weight of war that resonate with O'Brien's novel.
"The Things They Carried" by Tim O'Brien has had a significant influence on literature, academia, and the public's understanding of war and its impact on soldiers. This powerful collection of interconnected short stories has left an indelible mark on readers and has contributed to important conversations about memory, truth, storytelling, and the human experience in times of conflict. One notable influence of "The Things They Carried" is its contribution to the genre of war literature. O'Brien's innovative blend of fact and fiction, his exploration of the subjective nature of truth, and his vivid portrayal of the psychological and emotional burdens carried by soldiers have inspired subsequent authors to tackle similar themes. The book's honest depiction of war's complexities and its emphasis on the human cost of conflict have shaped and influenced subsequent works of literature exploring the realities of war. Moreover, "The Things They Carried" has had a profound impact on the field of literary criticism and academia. Scholars and researchers have extensively studied O'Brien's storytelling techniques, narrative structure, and thematic depth. The book's exploration of memory, trauma, and the power of storytelling has provided rich material for analysis and has influenced the field of narrative theory. Beyond the literary sphere, "The Things They Carried" has resonated with a wide range of readers, including veterans, students, and the general public. Its poignant portrayal of the complexities of war and its lasting effects on individuals has prompted discussions on topics such as moral ambiguity, the dehumanizing nature of conflict, and the importance of empathy and understanding. The influence of "The Things They Carried" extends beyond literature and academia into popular culture. The book has been referenced in songs, films, and other forms of media, further cementing its status as a cultural touchstone. Its enduring relevance and impact demonstrate the power of storytelling to illuminate the human condition and provoke meaningful reflection on the consequences of war.
1. "The Things They Carried" has received widespread critical acclaim since its publication. It was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1991 and won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction in the same year. 2. Over the years, "The Things They Carried" has remained a staple in literature courses and reading lists across the United States. It is frequently taught in high schools and universities, and its impact on readers has endured. The book's exploration of war, memory, and the power of storytelling continues to resonate with new generations, ensuring its place as a significant work of American literature. 3. In 2018, "The Things They Carried" was adapted into a feature film directed by Rupert Sanders. The movie, starring Tom Hardy and Tye Sheridan, aimed to bring O'Brien's powerful storytelling to the big screen. While the adaptation faced some challenges and has not been widely released, it is a testament to the enduring appeal and cinematic potential of the book's themes and narratives.
"The Things They Carried" is an essential work to write an essay about due to its profound exploration of the human experience in times of war. Through its vivid storytelling and introspective narratives, the book delves into the complexities of the Vietnam War, the weight of personal burdens, the power of memory, and the impact of storytelling itself. By examining the novel, students can gain a deeper understanding of the psychological and emotional toll of war on soldiers, the ethical dilemmas they face, and the enduring effects on their lives. The book raises thought-provoking questions about the nature of truth, the unreliability of memory, and the ways in which storytelling can shape our perceptions and heal our wounds. Moreover, "The Things They Carried" serves as a powerful example of how literature can humanize and give voice to the experiences of those who have served in conflict zones. It provides a platform for discussion on war literature, trauma, empathy, and the power of narrative. Ultimately, studying and analyzing this work allows students to engage with important social, historical, and psychological themes, fostering critical thinking and empathy towards those impacted by war.
"They carried the soldier’s greatest fear, which was the fear of blushing. Men killed, and died, because they were embarrassed not to. It was what had brought them to the war in the first place, nothing positive, no dreams of glory or honor, just to avoid the blush of dishonor. They died so as not to die of embarrassment." "He was a slim, dead, almost dainty young man of about twenty. He lay with one leg bent beneath him, his jaw in his throat, his face neither expressive nor inexpressive. One eye was shut. The other was a star-shaped hole." "But in a story, which is a kind of dreaming, the dead sometimes smile and sit up and return to the world" "I survived, but it's not a happy ending."
1. Climo, J. (2005). Truth and fiction in Tim O'Brien's If I Die in a Combat Zone, Box Me Up and Ship Me Home and The Things They Carried. Modern Fiction Studies, 51(1), 186-208. 2. Friedman, L. (2013). ‘Dancing the Soul Back Home’: Trauma, storytelling, and truth in Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried. War, Literature & the Arts: An International Journal of the Humanities, 25(1/2), 273-296. 3. Heberle, R. (2017). War, memory, and the inescapability of fiction in Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried. College Literature, 44(2), 225-245. 4. Herzog, T. (2002). Memory, history, and trauma in Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried. Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction, 43(3), 259-277. 5. Kaplan, S. (2016). Postmodernism, metafiction, and Tim O'Brien's Vietnam War stories. In The Philosophy of War Films (pp. 135-154). University Press of Kentucky. 6. Kaplan, S. (2017). The Things They Carried: Tim O'Brien's personal debt to Hemingway. The Hemingway Review, 36(1), 71-85. 7. McWilliams, J. (2015). Intimations of mortality: Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried and In the Lake of the Woods. In The Cambridge Companion to the Literature of the Vietnam War (pp. 145-160). Cambridge University Press. 8. O’Brien, T. (1990). The things they carried. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 9. Stenberg, P. (2009). Lyric narrative and the war text: Tim O'Brien's "Speaking of Courage" and "In the Field" as poetic rewritings of The Things They Carried. Contemporary Literature, 50(3), 497-527. 10. Wood, M. (2000). Refiguring the Vietnam veteran: (Dis) locating subjectivity in Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried. Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction, 41(2), 107-121.
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The Things They Carried: The Main Characters and the Underlying Themes
This essay discusses a famous novel about the war in Vietnam called The Things They Carried. It also gives a piece of background information about the writer, Tim O’Brien. In the essay, there is a discussion of the main characters and the underlying themes. The author analyzes some of the literary devices in Tim O’Brien’s The Thing They Carried.
This book is a collection of stories about the war in Vietnam. Tim O’Brien, just like the fictional “Tim,” went to Vietnam, and that is where a lot of inspiration comes from. However, it is essential to understand that this novel is not autobiographical. However, there are indeed some similarities between both but a lot of differences as well.
The author lived through the times of the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War. As a college student at Macalester College, he joined the antiwar movement. Nevertheless, he still went to Vietnam upon his graduation.
As the writer, he used Vietnam as a way to reach the reader’s heart. In the past years, The Things They Carried became the staple work of war literature. Combining elements of diary, writer’s memoir, and fiction made the book exceptional. The author intentionally blurs the line between the truth and the fiction.
It also challenges the notion of the truth in war literature. It asks a question of what an authentic war experience is.
The readers are welcomed into the novel not to see the war as it was. They are here to see a representation of feelings, thoughts, experiences that the author witnessed and went through.
The Things They Carried: Literary Analysis
When a human mind confronts a traumatic event, the brain tries to simplify the experience and puts it into some form of order. The author of the novel, Tim O’Brien, uses this method and a technique to tell the story and as a way to process the events that he witnessed personally.
The author takes us through the number of stories about the Vietnam war the way the protagonist remembers it. It is not a straightforward narration from the beginning to the end. Instead, it is a whirlpool of memories, impressions, emotions, and events that the characters of the novel went through. It is written in a movie-like manner.
One of these events is an encounter with death. The first opening story is an excellent example of that. The first story describes incidents in which the majority of Alpha Company encounters the end of their comrade.
However, this is not the focus of the story.
It focuses on the list of men and the things that had sentimental and practical value for them, “Ted Lavender carried six or seven ounces of premium dope, which for him was a necessity. Mitchell Sanders, the RTO, carried condoms. Norman Bowker carried a diary. Rat Kiley carried comic books. Kiowa, a devout Baptist, carried an illustrated New Testament that had been presented to him by his father, who taught Sunday school in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.” (O’Brien, 1998)
Suddenly, this list is interrupted by death.
What produces an even more significant effect is that the death portrayed as something ordinary. One moment it tells about poncho. The next, it describes how Ted Lavender’s cold body was wrapped in it, “with its quilted liner, the poncho weighed almost two ounces, but it was worth every ounce. In April, for instance, when Ted Lavender was shot, they used his poncho to wrap him up, then to carry him across the paddy, then to lift him into the chopper that took him away.” (O’Brien, 1998)
The narration of the death is absurd and traumatic for the whole group of soldiers. The reader, in turn, learns about Lavender’s death long before they learn how he died. The readers see that the exact things these soldiers carried were fear, guilt, loss, pain, and trauma. In the second story called “Love,” when Jimmy Cross visits Tim many years after the war is over, they talk about all these things they carried through their lives.
In the novel, the act of storytelling is more important than the stories itself.
Each character is searching for some form of a resolution by telling their war story. The war Itself does not give this type of closure. The fact that reality and fiction are blended creates an effect of chaos and uncertainty. That is what exactly the writer was trying to achieve.
The writer also analyzes why the stories are told and how they should be told. In the end, the act of storytelling is an attempt to put the chaotic memories and experiences in order.
Pain and Happiness
In the novel, pain and happiness are interconnected. The soldiers are experiencing a blend of emotions such as love, appreciation for beauty, desire for peace, a drive to live. At the same time, all of the heroes experience a range of negative feelings such as shame, guilt, and pain. One of the best examples of this unusual blend is a female character in the novel named Mary Anne. She is a young woman who travels to Vietnam to keep her boyfriend company. Very quickly, a tender and an innocent 17 years old girl changes. There was “new confidence in her voice, [and] new authority in the ways she carried herself.” Rat Kiley observes these changes in her by saying, “Vietnam made her glow in the dark. She wanted more, she wanted to penetrate deeper into the mystery of herself, and after a time the wanting became needing, which turned then to craving… She was lost inside herself.” (O’Brien, 1998)
Anyone who hears this story will most probably doubt it. Especially those who went through the war themselves. Nevertheless, it is not that remarkable because the story is so emotionally charged. This is the story about finding beauty in war, finding beauty in pain, and the transformative power of suffering.
Through this theme, the author shows a blend of emotions that the soldiers were going through, the things they carried.
O’Brien suggests that the proper way to tell the war story is through storytelling. The truth and the story in itself are two oppositions. However, in this novel, these two notions are profoundly interconnected. Even the characters themselves during the story practice escapism. Fantasy and myth become their way of dealing with the painful reality. Instead of thinking about war, Jimmy Cross dreams about a girl named Martha. Instead of helping to find Kiowa’s body, he thinks about the conversation he would have with Kiowa’s father. Ted Lavender uses drugs to create an imaginary world and escape the war. Eddie Diamond does the same.
Through practicing escapism, the characters are trying to find refuge from the painful reality they have to live in.
One of the most peculiar short stories in the book is How to Tell a True War Story. The writer tells the reader that the real war story cannot be moral. You cannot believe it. It also never ends. We can see the narrator many years after the war was over in Vietnam. However, it was never over for him. It was so vivid that many years later, the memories of both good and evil were haunting Tim. He says, “Sometimes war is beautiful, sometimes it’s horrible.” He also says, “You can tell a true war story the way it never seems to end, not then, not ever.” (O’Brien, 1998)
Brien invites the readers for a listening session as if telling it can help him cope with these vivid memories. At the beginning of the story about the death of Curt Lemon, the author says that it truly happened. In the final paragraphs, he takes his words back by saying, “None of it happened.” (O’Brien, 1998) Truthful fiction becomes a technique in which the author writes about memory in a fictional way.
This essay analyzes The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. It is a collection of short stories about American soldiers in the Vietnam War. The writer invited the readers to become listeners of the stories he is telling about the war. In his attempt to put the memories in place, the author frequently repeats them and tells them the way he remembers. Therefore, it is hard to understand what is truth and what is not. The author blurs the line between the two and allows the reader to decide what is fact and what is not.
- O’Brien, Tim. The Things They Carried . 1998, New York: Broadway Publisher.
What is the main conflict in The Things They Carried?
The central conflict in The Things They Carried is the uselessness and wastefulness of war. It is represented through the death of several main characters such as Kiowa, Curt Lemon, Ted Lavender. Another conflict in the novel is the realization that war never ends. It leaves the soldiers traumatized.
How do you write an essay about The Things They Carried?
In your essay on The Things They Carried, you can discuss the main themes, symbols, characters, and recurring events in the novel. You can also talk about truth vs. fiction and how the fictional Tim and the writer Tim are two different personas.
Is there a The Things They Carried movie?
The novel has been optioned for the movies several times, as the author of the book says. However, it has yet to reach the big screen. Twenty years after the publication, there still no film adaptation.
What are The Things They Carried settings?
The novel has two different settings. The first one is in the present times in America. It is told by the narrator, who is in his middle ages and who lives in New England. He recalls his experiences in the Vietnam War. So, Vietnam is the second one.
What’s the theme of The Things They Carried?
There are several themes in the novel. The first one is shame and guilt. The soldiers felt obliged to go to war not to embarrass their families. The also carried a lot of shame for outliving their friends who died on the battlefield.
What is the point of view of The Things They Carried?
The novel is written from the young Tim. It describes the details of the Vietnam War in retrospect. Tim is both the narrator of the story and its protagonist. His personal experience allows him to comment and draw conclusions about the war.
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The Things They Carried Rhetorical Analysis Essay
The Things They Carried Rhetorical Analysis Essay In The Things They Carried by Tim O’brien , O’Brien uses many short stories to describe his experience in Vietnam. The story that captured many aspects of writing was “How to Tell a True War Story” because it acts as a guide to writing a true story. O’Brien uses many different rhetorical strategies, narrative techniques, and establishes a theme in this story to help develop his characters and story line.
Tim O’Brien uses several rhetorical strategies in this story. A strategy that is easily found in the story is imagery. He uses a lot of sensory details to help the reader know what it feels like in a certain situation. “Except for the laughter things were quiet,” (67) and “You hear stuff nobody should ever hear,” (69) are some quotes that describes the sounds the soldiers are hearing. O’Brien uses sight as a big component for setting up the setting and describing what the soldiers saw. “A handsome kid, really.
Sharp grey eyes, lean and narrow-waisted…”(67), “A deep pinkish red spilled out on the river, which moved with no sound…(68). Another rhetorical strategy that O’Brien uses is motif. The motif that he uses is “…true war story…” He uses this phrase throughout the story to help the reader understand how to write a story. “A true war story is never moral. ”(65). This quote is basically saying that a true war story tells it how it is; it doesn’t try to make things easier for the reader to digest. “You can tell a true war story if it embarrasses you. (65) This quote is saying if you don’t want the offensive words or phrases then you don’t want the truth of the story. “In many cases a true war story cannot be believed. ”(68) The last strategy that O’Brien uses in this story is irony. There are many places in this story when O’Brien’s ideas contradict themselves. When Curt Lemon dies, O’Brien describes it as beautiful. “…when he died it was almost beautiful, the way the sunlight came around him and lifted him up…” (67) Most people wouldn’t associate death with beauty, especially the way the Curt Lemon died.
Another place where he displays irony is in the beginning of the story he says that Curt Lemon died when he was playing a game with Rat Kiley but later on, after he’s given some advice on how to write a true war story, he tells the reader how Curt Lemon actually died. This is ironic because he is giving advice on how to write a story but he didn’t take his own advice. The last place of irony is when O’Brien says that this story was actually a love story. When most people think of death and war they think of sadness and tragedy.
And these war stories, according to O’Brien, were love stories. Tim O’Brien uses two narrative techniques in “How to Tell a True War Story”. First he splits the story into three different sections. The first part being Rat Kiley
writing his letter to Curt Lemon’s sister about the relationship they had. The next section is describing the correct way of writing a “true war story”. And the last is O’Brien looking back on stories and his story telling techniques. O’Brien separates the story into three different parts to give the reader an example of a story that is “true”.
The next section would about the truth about writing a true story and the last section is his personal reflection on the whole situation. The other narrative technique is that O’Brien retells certain events. He retells how Curt Lemon died, he retells Mitchell Sanders telling a story, and he retells how women react when you tell them stories about the war. Tim O’Brien retells stories and events to make his own story more believable. O’Brien gives the main character his own name and naming all of the other soldiers which makes it difficult to label the book as fact or fiction.
The theme of “How to Tell a True War Story” is that everything is not what it seems. The truth is often ugly. When most people want to tell a story about war they will try to sugar coat it so the reader or listener will understand it better. But to truly understand something you need to get the full aspect of it. O’Brien gives many ideas as to ways to tell whether a story is true but most people don’t want to hear it or even understand. That is why some storytellers don’t tell the whole truth when writing, to make their work more appealing.
The real purpose of stories is to relate the truth of experience, not to create false emotions in their audiences. “How to Tell a True War Story” has aspects that help the story become more connect. O’Brien uses many rhetorical strategies like irony, imagery, and motifs that get the reader thinking. Imagery helps develop the setting and the characters. Motifs helped tie the whole story together, and irony brings an unexpected twist to the story. He also retells events and splits the story into three sections. And he reveals the overall theme of the story which is the truth may be ugly but it needs to be known.
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How to Write the AP Lang Rhetorical Analysis Essay (With Example)
November 27, 2023
Feeling intimidated by the AP Lang Rhetorical Analysis Essay? We’re here to help demystify. Whether you’re cramming for the AP Lang exam right now or planning to take the test down the road, we’ve got crucial rubric information, helpful tips, and an essay example to prepare you for the big day. This post will cover 1) What is the AP Lang Rhetorical Analysis Essay? 2) AP Lang Rhetorical Analysis Rubric 3) AP Lang Rhetorical Analysis: Sample Prompt 4) AP Lang Rhetorical Analysis Essay Example 5)AP Lang Rhetorical Analysis Essay Example: Why It Works
What is the AP Lang Rhetorical Analysis Essay?
The AP Lang Rhetorical Analysis Essay is one of three essays included in the written portion of the AP English Exam. The full AP English Exam is 3 hours and 15 minutes long, with the first 60 minutes dedicated to multiple-choice questions. Once you complete the multiple-choice section, you move on to three equally weighted essays that ask you to synthesize, analyze, and interpret texts and develop well-reasoned arguments. The three essays include:
Synthesis essay: You’ll review various pieces of evidence and then write an essay that synthesizes (aka combines and interprets) the evidence and presents a clear argument. Read our write up on How to Write the AP Lang Synthesis Essay here.
Argumentative essay: You’ll take a stance on a specific topic and argue your case.
Rhetorical essay: You’ll read a provided passage, then analyze the author’s rhetorical choices and develop an argument that explains why the author made those rhetorical choices.
AP Lang Rhetorical Analysis Rubric
The AP Lang Rhetorical Analysis Essay is graded on just 3 rubric categories: Thesis, Evidence and Commentary, and Sophistication . At a glance, the rubric categories may seem vague, but AP exam graders are actually looking for very particular things in each category. We’ll break it down with dos and don’ts for each rubric category:
Thesis (0-1 point)
There’s nothing nebulous when it comes to grading AP Lang Rhetorical Analysis Essay thesis. You either have one or you don’t. Including a thesis gets you one point closer to a high score and leaving it out means you miss out on one crucial point. So, what makes a thesis that counts?
- Make sure your thesis argues something about the author’s rhetorical choices. Making an argument means taking a risk and offering your own interpretation of the provided text. This is an argument that someone else might disagree with.
- A good test to see if you have a thesis that makes an argument. In your head, add the phrase “I think that…” to the beginning of your thesis. If what follows doesn’t logically flow after that phrase (aka if what follows isn’t something you and only you think), it’s likely you’re not making an argument.
- Avoid a thesis that merely restates the prompt.
- Avoid a thesis that summarizes the text but does not make an argument.
Evidence and Commentary (0-4 points)
This rubric category is graded on a scale of 0-4 where 4 is the highest grade. Per the AP Lang Rhetorical Analysis rubric, to get a 4, you’ll want to:
- Include lots of specific evidence from the text. There is no set golden number of quotes to include, but you’ll want to make sure you’re incorporating more than a couple pieces of evidence that support your argument about the author’s rhetorical choices.
- Make sure you include more than one type of evidence, too. Let’s say you’re working on your essay and have gathered examples of alliteration to include as supporting evidence. That’s just one type of rhetorical choice, and it’s hard to make a credible argument if you’re only looking at one type of evidence. To fix that issue, reread the text again looking for patterns in word choice and syntax, meaningful figurative language and imagery, literary devices, and other rhetorical choices, looking for additional types of evidence to support your argument.
- After you include evidence, offer your own interpretation and explain how this evidence proves the point you make in your thesis.
- Don’t summarize or speak generally about the author and the text. Everything you write must be backed up with evidence.
- Don’t let quotes speak for themselves. After every piece of evidence you include, make sure to explain your interpretation. Also, connect the evidence to your overarching argument.
Sophistication (0-1 point)
In this case, sophistication isn’t about how many fancy vocabulary words or how many semicolons you use. According to College Board , one point can be awarded to AP Lang Rhetorical Analysis essays that “demonstrate sophistication of thought and/or a complex understanding of the rhetorical situation” in any of these three ways:
- Explaining the significance or relevance of the writer’s rhetorical choices.
- Explaining the purpose or function of the passage’s complexities or tensions.
- Employing a style that is consistently vivid and persuasive.
Note that you don’t have to achieve all three to earn your sophistication point. A good way to think of this rubric category is to consider it a bonus point that you can earn for going above and beyond in depth of analysis or by writing an especially persuasive, clear, and well-structured essay. In order to earn this point, you’ll need to first do a good job with your thesis, evidence, and commentary.
- Focus on nailing an argumentative thesis and multiple types of evidence. Getting these fundamentals of your essay right will set you up for achieving depth of analysis.
- Explain how each piece of evidence connects to your thesis.
- Spend a minute outlining your essay before you begin to ensure your essay flows in a clear and cohesive way.
- Steer clear of generalizations about the author or text.
- Don’t include arguments you can’t prove with evidence from the text.
- Avoid complex sentences and fancy vocabulary words unless you use them often. Long, clunky sentences with imprecisely used words are hard to follow.
AP Lang Rhetorical Analysis: Sample Prompt
The sample prompt below is published online by College Board and is a real example from the 2021 AP Exam. The prompt provides background context, essay instructions, and the text you need to analyze. For sake of space, we’ve included the text as an image you can click to read. After the prompt, we provide a sample high scoring essay and then explain why this AP Lang Rhetorical Analysis essay example works.
Suggested time—40 minutes.
(This question counts as one-third of the total essay section score.)
On February 27, 2013, while in office, former president Barack Obama delivered the following address dedicating the Rosa Parks statue in the National Statuary Hall of the United States Capitol building. Rosa Parks was an African American civil rights activist who was arrested in 1955 for refusing to give up her seat on a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Read the passage carefully. Write an essay that analyzes the rhetorical choices Obama makes to convey his message.
In your response you should do the following:
- Respond to the prompt with a thesis that analyzes the writer’s rhetorical choices.
- Select and use evidence to support your line of reasoning.
- Explain how the evidence supports your line of reasoning.
- Demonstrate an understanding of the rhetorical situation.
- Use appropriate grammar and punctuation in communicating your argument.
AP Lang Rhetorical Analysis Essay Example
In his speech delivered in 2013 at the dedication of Rosa Park’s statue, President Barack Obama acknowledges everything that Parks’ activism made possible in the United States. Telling the story of Parks’ life and achievements, Obama highlights the fact that Parks was a regular person whose actions accomplished enormous change during the civil rights era. Through the use of diction that portrays Parks as quiet and demure, long lists that emphasize the extent of her impacts, and Biblical references, Obama suggests that all of us are capable of achieving greater good, just as Parks did.
Although it might be a surprising way to start to his dedication, Obama begins his speech by telling us who Parks was not: “Rosa Parks held no elected office. She possessed no fortune” he explains in lines 1-2. Later, when he tells the story of the bus driver who threatened to have Parks arrested when she refused to get off the bus, he explains that Parks “simply replied, ‘You may do that’” (lines 22-23). Right away, he establishes that Parks was a regular person who did not hold a seat of power. Her protest on the bus was not part of a larger plan, it was a simple response. By emphasizing that Parks was not powerful, wealthy, or loud spoken, he implies that Parks’ style of activism is an everyday practice that all of us can aspire to.
AP Lang Rhetorical Analysis Essay Example (Continued)
Even though Obama portrays Parks as a demure person whose protest came “simply” and naturally, he shows the importance of her activism through long lists of ripple effects. When Parks challenged her arrest, Obama explains, Martin Luther King, Jr. stood with her and “so did thousands of Montgomery, Alabama commuters” (lines 27-28). They began a boycott that included “teachers and laborers, clergy and domestics, through rain and cold and sweltering heat, day after day, week after week, month after month, walking miles if they had to…” (lines 28-31). In this section of the speech, Obama’s sentences grow longer and he uses lists to show that Parks’ small action impacted and inspired many others to fight for change. Further, listing out how many days, weeks, and months the boycott lasted shows how Parks’ single act of protest sparked a much longer push for change.
To further illustrate Parks’ impact, Obama incorporates Biblical references that emphasize the importance of “that single moment on the bus” (lines 57-58). In lines 33-35, Obama explains that Parks and the other protestors are “driven by a solemn determination to affirm their God-given dignity” and he also compares their victory to the fall the “ancient walls of Jericho” (line 43). By of including these Biblical references, Obama suggests that Parks’ action on the bus did more than correct personal or political wrongs; it also corrected moral and spiritual wrongs. Although Parks had no political power or fortune, she was able to restore a moral balance in our world.
Toward the end of the speech, Obama states that change happens “not mainly through the exploits of the famous and the powerful, but through the countless acts of often anonymous courage and kindness” (lines 78-81). Through carefully chosen diction that portrays her as a quiet, regular person and through lists and Biblical references that highlight the huge impacts of her action, Obama illustrates exactly this point. He wants us to see that, just like Parks, the small and meek can change the world for the better.
AP Lang Rhetorical Analysis Essay Example: Why It Works
We would give the AP Lang Rhetorical Analysis essay above a score of 6 out of 6 because it fully satisfies the essay’s 3 rubric categories: Thesis, Evidence and Commentary, and Sophistication . Let’s break down what this student did:
The thesis of this essay appears in the last line of the first paragraph:
“ Through the use of diction that portrays Parks as quiet and demure, long lists that emphasize the extent of her impacts, and Biblical references, Obama suggests that all of us are capable of achieving greater good, just as Parks did .”
This student’s thesis works because they make a clear argument about Obama’s rhetorical choices. They 1) list the rhetorical choices that will be analyzed in the rest of the essay (the italicized text above) and 2) include an argument someone else might disagree with (the bolded text above).
Evidence and Commentary:
This student includes substantial evidence and commentary. Things they do right, per the AP Lang Rhetorical Analysis rubric:
- They include lots of specific evidence from the text in the form of quotes.
- They incorporate 3 different types of evidence (diction, long lists, Biblical references).
- After including evidence, they offer an interpretation of what the evidence means and explain how the evidence contributes to their overarching argument (aka their thesis).
This essay achieves sophistication according to the AP Lang Rhetorical Analysis essay rubric in a few key ways:
- This student provides an introduction that flows naturally into the topic their essay will discuss. Before they get to their thesis, they tell us that Obama portrays Parks as a “regular person” setting up their main argument: Obama wants all regular people to aspire to do good in the world just as Rosa Parks did.
- They organize evidence and commentary in a clear and cohesive way. Each body paragraph focuses on just one type of evidence.
- They explain how their evidence is significant. In the final sentence of each body paragraph, they draw a connection back to the overarching argument presented in the thesis.
- All their evidence supports the argument presented in their thesis. There is no extraneous evidence or misleading detail.
- They consider nuances in the text. Rather than taking the text at face value, they consider what Obama’s rhetorical choices imply and offer their own unique interpretation of those implications.
- In their final paragraph, they come full circle, reiterate their thesis, and explain what Obama’s rhetorical choices communicate to readers.
- Their sentences are clear and easy to read. There are no grammar errors or misused words.
AP Lang Rhetorical Analysis Essay—More Resources
Looking for more tips to help your master your AP Lang Rhetorical Analysis Essay? Brush up on 20 Rhetorical Devices High School Students Should Know and read our Tips for Improving Reading Comprehension . If you’re ready to start studying for another part of the AP English Exam, find more expert tips in our How to Write the AP Lang Synthesis blog post.
Considering what other AP classes to take? Read up on the Hardest AP Classes .
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Christina Wood holds a BA in Literature & Writing from UC San Diego, an MFA in Creative Writing from Washington University in St. Louis, and is currently a Doctoral Candidate in English at the University of Georgia, where she teaches creative writing and first-year composition courses. Christina has published fiction and nonfiction in numerous publications, including The Paris Review , McSweeney’s , Granta , Virginia Quarterly Review , The Sewanee Review , Mississippi Review , and Puerto del Sol , among others. Her story “The Astronaut” won the 2018 Shirley Jackson Award for short fiction and received a “Distinguished Stories” mention in the 2019 Best American Short Stories anthology.
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- How to write a rhetorical analysis | Key concepts & examples
How to Write a Rhetorical Analysis | Key Concepts & Examples
Published on August 28, 2020 by Jack Caulfield . Revised on July 23, 2023.
A rhetorical analysis is a type of essay that looks at a text in terms of rhetoric. This means it is less concerned with what the author is saying than with how they say it: their goals, techniques, and appeals to the audience.
Table of contents
Key concepts in rhetoric, analyzing the text, introducing your rhetorical analysis, the body: doing the analysis, concluding a rhetorical analysis, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about rhetorical analysis.
Rhetoric, the art of effective speaking and writing, is a subject that trains you to look at texts, arguments and speeches in terms of how they are designed to persuade the audience. This section introduces a few of the key concepts of this field.
Appeals: Logos, ethos, pathos
Appeals are how the author convinces their audience. Three central appeals are discussed in rhetoric, established by the philosopher Aristotle and sometimes called the rhetorical triangle: logos, ethos, and pathos.
Logos , or the logical appeal, refers to the use of reasoned argument to persuade. This is the dominant approach in academic writing , where arguments are built up using reasoning and evidence.
Ethos , or the ethical appeal, involves the author presenting themselves as an authority on their subject. For example, someone making a moral argument might highlight their own morally admirable behavior; someone speaking about a technical subject might present themselves as an expert by mentioning their qualifications.
Pathos , or the pathetic appeal, evokes the audience’s emotions. This might involve speaking in a passionate way, employing vivid imagery, or trying to provoke anger, sympathy, or any other emotional response in the audience.
These three appeals are all treated as integral parts of rhetoric, and a given author may combine all three of them to convince their audience.
Text and context
In rhetoric, a text is not necessarily a piece of writing (though it may be this). A text is whatever piece of communication you are analyzing. This could be, for example, a speech, an advertisement, or a satirical image.
In these cases, your analysis would focus on more than just language—you might look at visual or sonic elements of the text too.
The context is everything surrounding the text: Who is the author (or speaker, designer, etc.)? Who is their (intended or actual) audience? When and where was the text produced, and for what purpose?
Looking at the context can help to inform your rhetorical analysis. For example, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech has universal power, but the context of the civil rights movement is an important part of understanding why.
Claims, supports, and warrants
A piece of rhetoric is always making some sort of argument, whether it’s a very clearly defined and logical one (e.g. in a philosophy essay) or one that the reader has to infer (e.g. in a satirical article). These arguments are built up with claims, supports, and warrants.
A claim is the fact or idea the author wants to convince the reader of. An argument might center on a single claim, or be built up out of many. Claims are usually explicitly stated, but they may also just be implied in some kinds of text.
The author uses supports to back up each claim they make. These might range from hard evidence to emotional appeals—anything that is used to convince the reader to accept a claim.
The warrant is the logic or assumption that connects a support with a claim. Outside of quite formal argumentation, the warrant is often unstated—the author assumes their audience will understand the connection without it. But that doesn’t mean you can’t still explore the implicit warrant in these cases.
For example, look at the following statement:
We can see a claim and a support here, but the warrant is implicit. Here, the warrant is the assumption that more likeable candidates would have inspired greater turnout. We might be more or less convinced by the argument depending on whether we think this is a fair assumption.
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Rhetorical analysis isn’t a matter of choosing concepts in advance and applying them to a text. Instead, it starts with looking at the text in detail and asking the appropriate questions about how it works:
- What is the author’s purpose?
- Do they focus closely on their key claims, or do they discuss various topics?
- What tone do they take—angry or sympathetic? Personal or authoritative? Formal or informal?
- Who seems to be the intended audience? Is this audience likely to be successfully reached and convinced?
- What kinds of evidence are presented?
By asking these questions, you’ll discover the various rhetorical devices the text uses. Don’t feel that you have to cram in every rhetorical term you know—focus on those that are most important to the text.
The following sections show how to write the different parts of a rhetorical analysis.
Like all essays, a rhetorical analysis begins with an introduction . The introduction tells readers what text you’ll be discussing, provides relevant background information, and presents your thesis statement .
Hover over different parts of the example below to see how an introduction works.
Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech is widely regarded as one of the most important pieces of oratory in American history. Delivered in 1963 to thousands of civil rights activists outside the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., the speech has come to symbolize the spirit of the civil rights movement and even to function as a major part of the American national myth. This rhetorical analysis argues that King’s assumption of the prophetic voice, amplified by the historic size of his audience, creates a powerful sense of ethos that has retained its inspirational power over the years.
The body of your rhetorical analysis is where you’ll tackle the text directly. It’s often divided into three paragraphs, although it may be more in a longer essay.
Each paragraph should focus on a different element of the text, and they should all contribute to your overall argument for your thesis statement.
Hover over the example to explore how a typical body paragraph is constructed.
King’s speech is infused with prophetic language throughout. Even before the famous “dream” part of the speech, King’s language consistently strikes a prophetic tone. He refers to the Lincoln Memorial as a “hallowed spot” and speaks of rising “from the dark and desolate valley of segregation” to “make justice a reality for all of God’s children.” The assumption of this prophetic voice constitutes the text’s strongest ethical appeal; after linking himself with political figures like Lincoln and the Founding Fathers, King’s ethos adopts a distinctly religious tone, recalling Biblical prophets and preachers of change from across history. This adds significant force to his words; standing before an audience of hundreds of thousands, he states not just what the future should be, but what it will be: “The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.” This warning is almost apocalyptic in tone, though it concludes with the positive image of the “bright day of justice.” The power of King’s rhetoric thus stems not only from the pathos of his vision of a brighter future, but from the ethos of the prophetic voice he adopts in expressing this vision.
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The conclusion of a rhetorical analysis wraps up the essay by restating the main argument and showing how it has been developed by your analysis. It may also try to link the text, and your analysis of it, with broader concerns.
Explore the example below to get a sense of the conclusion.
It is clear from this analysis that the effectiveness of King’s rhetoric stems less from the pathetic appeal of his utopian “dream” than it does from the ethos he carefully constructs to give force to his statements. By framing contemporary upheavals as part of a prophecy whose fulfillment will result in the better future he imagines, King ensures not only the effectiveness of his words in the moment but their continuing resonance today. Even if we have not yet achieved King’s dream, we cannot deny the role his words played in setting us on the path toward it.
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The goal of a rhetorical analysis is to explain the effect a piece of writing or oratory has on its audience, how successful it is, and the devices and appeals it uses to achieve its goals.
Unlike a standard argumentative essay , it’s less about taking a position on the arguments presented, and more about exploring how they are constructed.
The term “text” in a rhetorical analysis essay refers to whatever object you’re analyzing. It’s frequently a piece of writing or a speech, but it doesn’t have to be. For example, you could also treat an advertisement or political cartoon as a text.
Logos appeals to the audience’s reason, building up logical arguments . Ethos appeals to the speaker’s status or authority, making the audience more likely to trust them. Pathos appeals to the emotions, trying to make the audience feel angry or sympathetic, for example.
Collectively, these three appeals are sometimes called the rhetorical triangle . They are central to rhetorical analysis , though a piece of rhetoric might not necessarily use all of them.
In rhetorical analysis , a claim is something the author wants the audience to believe. A support is the evidence or appeal they use to convince the reader to believe the claim. A warrant is the (often implicit) assumption that links the support with the claim.
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