Posted: September 16th, 2022

You may have at some point in your life heard the word “rhetoric” used in the world of politics. Usually, when the word is used in terms of politics it has a negative connotation (a meaning more specific than it’s denotative meaning). Someone might say, “I don’t believe anything this president says. It’s all just rhetoric.” By this, they mean the politician’s words are an attempt to disguise the actual meaning or that there is no real meaning at all. However, the denotative meaning of “rhetoric” is: the art of persuasive speaking or writing. In other words, it is the craft that goes into communication, whether that is persuading your friend to go out to the club, persuading your boss to give you a raise, or persuading your reader that the central argument of your essay is valid.
It is important as a developing writer to understand the techniques of academic writing (rhetorical devices) so that you can employ them effectively in order to prove the arguments you will make in your essays (and get a good grade). One of the best ways to continually learn the effective use of these techniques is to identify their use by published authors in the material you are asked to read for class. At the same time, you will not only be learning how to use rhetorical devices, you will also be better able to analyze the content of the work itself and evaluate its validity.
Here are some important areas to consider when analyzing an author’s rhetoric (we will discuss more techniques as the semester progresses):
Tone: a)The mood of a piece established by the author; b) The attitude of an author toward a given subject. When discussing an author’s tone, be as specific as possible with the words you use. For example, to say a tone is “angry” is not as specific as saying it is “frustrated” or “bitter”. In other words, what kind of “angry” is it?
Diction: a)Word Choice – what specific words does the author use to create analogies, make subtle connections, or offer imagery? Take this line from the Gladwell piece: “The practice of prying into the minds and habits of American consumers is now a multi-billion dollar business” (94). The word “prying” has a connotation of doing something bad, like a criminal using a crowbar to pry into a locked door. This word adds more meaning to the sentence rather than just saying “look into”. b)Overall Language – does the language in the piece seem Formal (complex vocabulary, grammatically and syntactically correct according Standard Academic English)? Or does the language seem Conversational (using language that is common in everyday conversation)? Or does the language seem to employ Slang (very informal language that is usually only understood by a specific group of people).
Write two paragraphs (one on tone and one on diction) analyzing the rhetorical strategies of Patterson’s “The Politics of the Hoodie” (pg. 130 in 9th Edition; pg. 224 in 10th Edition). If you are still waiting on your book, you can read Patterson’s article at this site: New York Times Magazine (Links to an external site.) Use multiple examples to support what you say about the author’s use of tone and diction in their separate paragraphs. Be sure to explain what you think the effect of the author’s use of tone and diction is after giving examples.
Build your paragraphs with the 3-step process:
Make your point about the author’s tone or diction.
Give multiple examples of that point that illustrate what you mean.
Explain the effects of his use of tone or diction that you just illustrated.
Here is a sample paragraph (using a different reading so that I don’t steal all the good ideas for Patterson’s piece, but remember, you are supposed to write two paragraphs on Patterson’s use of Tone and Diction in “The Politics of the Hoodie”):
Roberts continually shifts his tone in the piece by weaving together factual statements and contemptuous interjections, while shifting between personal and indefinite pronouns. For example, Roberts often begins a paragraph with a factual statement like “Research has shown that humans are very flexible” (119). He then tends to follow up such statements with an inclusive personal pronoun, in this case: “We tend to get used to new circumstances in our lives” (119). The “we” here serves to bring the reader into the discussion as a participant along with the author. In addition, his contemptuous interjections sometimes add biting humor. One such example is when he is discussing the status symbol of Patek Philippe watches and their ads that suggest consumers are buying an investment for their children’s future. Roberts derisively proclaims, “Trust me; you’re buying it for yourself” (121). Roberts’ continual shifts between the objective, the personal, and the passionate work to draw the reader into the argument as an ally to the author even while Roberts indicts the reader as complicit in the perpetuation of the problem. His biting humor works to soften these direct accusations, while the use of pronouns like “we” and “us” serve as a way to refrain from standing on a soapbox of judgment.

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