Sample paper: Rhetorical Analysis of “Indian Education” by Sherman Alexie
Writers use various rhetorical techniques to effectively relay messages to audiences. To be able to judge the effectiveness of a piece of literature, a reader must be conduct a rhetorical analysis of the piece and identify the rhetorical techniques employed in creating it. Writers often use appeals and stylistic devices, in complementary fashion, as the rhetorical techniques for making their non-fiction works persuasive. Sherman Alexie employed these rhetorical techniques in the article, “Indian Education”, to shed light on the poor state of education and low living standards in Indian reservations in the hope of prompting the Indian and American community at large to initiate change. “Indian Education” is an excellent example of a piece of literature that successfully utilizes rhetorical techniques to deliver the author’s message effectively
Ethical appeal or ethos, which refers to the author’s credibility, can be used at the onset of writing to convince readers that the facts presented in the arguments of a paper are reliable. In “Indian Education”, the paper was deliberately structured so that Alexie’s credentials are read first; he is an experienced and accomplished writer from a Native Indian tribe, the Spokane people, who overcame the childhood challenges of reservation life (“Indian Education”). This technique is effective because it creates an atmosphere of reverence and appreciation early on and, consequently, readers are inclined to accept the message of the text. Alexie’s credibility and authority is supported in several other works. He was interviewed by Joshua Nelson who commended his writing prowess that won him accolades such as the 2010 PEN/Faulkner Award (Nelson). In chapter 43 of the book “American Identities: An Introductory Textbook,” the editors applauded Alexie’s success with his “first major book, ‘The Business of Fancy Dancing’” (Rudnick, Smith, and Rubin 305). Finally, in “Superman and Me” Alexie recounted his childhood challenges and the extensive efforts he made to become a great writer. The autobiography was published in the Los Angeles Times, a reputable national newspaper. Therefore, Alexie is a credible author.
Pathos or pathetical appeal is a useful rhetorical technique for presenting non-fiction works, such as personal narratives, because of the emotional connection it creates with readers. Like the name suggests, “Indian Education” is a narrative about a child’s, Alexie’s, educational experiences. The story has two settings, that is, from first grade to sixth grade, Alexie studied at a local reservation school and then moved to a nearby farm-town school from seventh grade to twelfth grade (“Indian Education”). In other words, the title of the story has symbolic meaning. Symbolism was also used in the text to appeal to the emotions of readers. In first grade, Alexie was nicknamed “Junior Falls Down”, “Bloody Nose,” and “Steal-His-Lunch,” which are all symbolic of the bullying that he experienced at that young age (“Indian Education”). Here, Alexie wanted the audience, the American public, to be pitiful and understanding of the misery that young Indian children experience in reservation schools. Finally, Alexie lamented about having waited indefinitely for his punishment to end since third grade, his father’s perpetual drunkenness, and the failure of his mother to complete her initiatives, which are all symbolic of the desperate situation that exists in the reservation. Consequently, readers empathize with the hopelessness of the situation. Other stylistic devices in the text that have been used to evoke emotional responses from readers include humor and sarcasm. It is humorous to think of young Alexie on his toes trying to reach for his glasses only for a bully to trip and send him falling down face-first (“Indian Education”). Alexie emphasized the desperate situation of his family by sarcastically stating that they were forced to consume food that was unfit even for dogs (“Indian Education”). Overall, with regard to pathos, Alexie successfully used symbolism, humor and sarcasm to create a general feeling of hopelessness and helplessness with the aim of prompting readers, including other Native Indians, to intervene and save the children in the reservations.
Logos or logical appeal provides the evidence required to make a piece of literature believable. In “Indian Education”, substantial evidence was provided to support the arguments made. As earlier stated, the main themes of the text were poor education and low living standards in Indian reservations. Alexie used symbolism to provide the evidence of poor education. First, the entire paper is full of grammatical mistakes, such as poor spacing between words, which shows that as a student he did not make significant progress in learning as he went through all the 12 grades (“Indian Education”). Even after he moved to the farm-town school, located in a white neighborhood, his grammar remained just as poor as before, which suggests that teachers in the school ignored him because he is a Native Indian. In fact, this suspicion of racism was confirmed when a teacher from the farm-town school alleged that Alexie passed out after the basketball match because of being drunk; one of the racial stereotypes about Native Indians is that they engage in alcoholism from an early age. It was ironical that the teacher who made the allegation was an Indian, a Chicano (“Indian Education”). Irony was also used several times to expose the low expectations or hopelessness of life in the reservation, for instance, after defeating his childhood bully in a fight, Alexie ran to the principal’s office chanting “It’s a good day to die” (“Indian Education”). Notably, Alexie’s family lived in a HUD house, homes built by the federal government, which shows that the family’s income was insufficient (“Indian Education”). Alexie is very consistent with regard to use of logos as seen in the poem “Curse#7”. In this satirical poem, he outlined a series of mistakes made by drivers on the road and then ridiculed their unreasonable reactions (“Curse#7”). Therefore, the numerous examples provided in the text to support the stated themes justify the conclusion that education and life in the reservations is hopeless.
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Rhetorical analysis helps in critical analysis of pieces of literature because it identifies the techniques used by authors to make their works persuasive. It is also a useful method for studying how to improve one’s ability to communicate effectively, for instance, when writing personal essays. Successful writers employ a mixture of appeals and stylistic devices to make their messages convincing. For instance, Alexie is one of the renowned Native Indian writers who continue to creatively mix rhetorical techniques to effectively expose issues that undermine the social and economic lives of their communities. In “Indian Education” Alexie succeeds in creating an emotional connection that leaves readers sad, entertained, and astonished. However, the most significant emotion that is aroused after reading the evidence-full paper is a desire to take actions that will change the desperate situations in the reservations, which is the message that he intended to convey to Native Indians and American’s at large.