Rhetoric In Speech Of David Foster Wallace

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Rhetoric is used throughout many speeches as it draws audiences in and allows them to learn more. In David Foster Wallace’s speech, “This is Water” and in the film, Dead Poets Society featuring one of the main characters, John Keating-both utilizes rhetoric in their speeches to describe the importance of finding value in education and life. Wallace speaks at Kenyon College in 2005 at the graduation ceremony to teach the graduating class that they should be more self-aware so that they may have their personal freedom through being educated. The film, Dead Poet Society, stars a young group of boys who attend a preparatory school where the atmosphere is rigorous. However, their English teacher-John Keating appears to be different and changes their view on how they should live their lives through his teachings. Wallace utilizes logos to develop his claim that students should use their education to find their personal freedom in life while Keating employs ethos to assert his credibility so that his students grasp the understanding that they should go for their dreams, however, both implement pathos to appeal to their audiences to discuss the notion of finding value in education and life.

Wallace uses logos to highlight his claim that by utilizing their education, they can find the value of their freedom. Wallace’s appeal to logos comes in the form of stories that illustrate the choices people must make about how to view familiar situations. He uses a story about religion where one person is religious and the other is an atheist, explaining that the atheist was lost and experimented with a prayer asking for God to help him and when saved, the atheist still did not believe in God. Wallace later goes on to explain that “it’s easy to run this story through kind of a standard liberal arts analysis: the exact same experience can mean two totally different things to two different people, given those people’s two different belief templates” (Wallace par. 5). By utilizing this story of the atheist man who firmly believes that there is no God, he conveys the message that there are different perspectives in life which are shown by how the atheist man views God compared to the religious man who thought he would have believed through his situation. This sets up his claim about how being self-aware and thinking from other people’s point of view allow people to be more understanding which effectively draws in his audience. Wallace also uses parallelism in his appeal to logos to create a cause-effect construct that rationally proves his argument that there are different perspectives on situations, and choosing to think from another point of view causes different results. Nearing the end of Wallace’s speech, he employs parallelism to say “if you’re automatically sure that you know what reality is…then you, like me, probably won’t consider possibilities that aren’t annoying. But if you really learn how to pay attention, then you will know there are other options” (Wallace par. 23). The parallelism shows a cause and effect situation showing that their choices matter and that they need to be self-aware of their thoughts and actions. As a result of using this strategy, he successfully backs up his argument and shows his central claim that doing these different steps allow for a different understanding which then allows people to have a better life.

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Keating implements ethos into his lessons when teaching the students to highlight his claim that they should go after their dreams and live their lives to the fullest. On the first day of school, the students go through the continuous cycle of strict, boring teachers but they go into English class and meet Mr. Keating who they find is different from the other teachers. As Mr. Keating introduces himself, he states ‘O Captain, my Captain. Who knows where that comes from?… It’s from a poem by Walt Whitman about Mr. Abraham Lincoln. Now in this class, you can either call me Mr. Keating or… ‘O Captain my Captain’’ (Dead Poets Society). He begins by alluding to this poem about Abraham Lincoln to demonstrate that he is a knowledgeable teacher who is capable of teaching them. Since this is his introduction, it also sets the tone between him and the students which allow the students to be more comfortable around him. However, though the students realize that he is not a normal teacher and more lenient, he still wants to be respected which is why he wants to be called “O Captain My Captain”. Further, in the week, Keating takes them outside to do a marching activity. Once the boys synchronize their marching, he then explains the game saying “now we all have a great need for acceptance, but you must trust that your beliefs are unique…Robert Frost said, ‘Two roads diverged in the wood and I, I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference’” (DPS). The boys began walking in their own stride and pace, but once the other students began to clap in rhythm and Mr. Keating marched alongside them, they matched his pace immediately. From this, he warns them about conformity and how it is hard to achieve much when you conform to normal society but he also wants them to become free, individual thinkers. By building up this trust and these lessons with his students, he is able to convince the students to not conform to society and to follow their dreams and enjoy life.

Using the rhetoric of pathos, Wallace, and Keating both implement pathos into their speeches to highlight their claims about the value of education and life. After discussing why people should have different perspectives, he brings up the fact “If you worship money and things…then you will never have enough…Worship your body…and you will always feel ugly…Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid” (Wallace par. 26-27). Wallace’s repetition of “worship” and the parallelism of his sentences imitate the routine way people go about their lives. His argument pertains to the most basic human emotions people feel every day and appeals to the audience as they reflect upon this and empathize with how they relate to this statement of worship. Keating also uses emotion to appeal to the students to help them feel a connection to his teachings. On the first day of school, he takes them outside and shows them a picture of the past generation saying ‘they’re not that different from you… Invincible, just like you feel…But if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you…Carpe, carpe diem, seize the day boys, make your lives extraordinary’ (DPS). Keating uses the speech to inspire them and to empathize with their feelings. He shows them a picture of the past generation and compares it with the current generation, explaining that they should go out and make their lives extraordinary. By comparing them with the legacy of Welton, it allows the students to make a connection with his teaching and with the school so that they take his lesson of “carpe diem” to their hearts.

Wallace employs logos in his address while Keating uses ethos in his lessons to highlight their claims of finding value in education and life, but both implement pathos to appeal to their audiences. Wallace uses stories and parallelism to claim that students can find their own freedom through education while Keating uses ethos to convey to his students that they should go after their dreams. Wallace and Keating both employ pathos to appeal to their audience’s emotions to highlight their arguments. Rhetorical strategies always help support authors’ writings and are often used in even the simplest texts which is why it is important to utilize them. 


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