The purpose of a rhetorical analysis is to educate the reader about the elements present in a piece of literary work. It illustrates how these elements affect the overall power of the message that the work wishes to express to the reader.
The right questions. In writing a rhetorical analysis, you need to come up with relevant questions. These questions can only be asked if you have fully read and understood the work. The answers to these questions will then form the thesis of the rhetorical analysis. There is no need to analyse the littlest elements of the work – you only need to focus on those elements that you think are directly responsible for the power and success of the work.
The rhetorical situation. No piece of work exists by itself without any influence of outside factors. A work’s rhetorical situation points to: 1) the background in which the author had written it, 2) the reasons why the author wrote it and 3) the aim of the work, and 4) the author’s intention.
Ethos, Pathos, Logos. In a previous article, we have already discussed these three modes of persuasion. In the context of a rhetorical analysis, modes of persuasion form what is called rhetorical appeals. Since an author employs many means in convincing the reader, understanding a work’s rhetorical appeals will help you discover how the author used them to influence the power of the work’s message. In a rhetorical analysis, another mode is included – kairos. Kairos refers to the timeliness of the work’s publication.
Ethos refers to the credibility of the author. For you to establish it, ask yourself questions.
Pathos means appeal to emotion. Ask these questions:
- Does he wish to persuade, to enlighten, to teach, or just to narrate?
- Whatever your answer is, do you think the writer can be trusted?
- Evaluate the language in which the work is written? Does it change your perception of the writer?
- Does he have enough knowledge or background about the subject?
- Does he make an effort to discuss other points of view?
Logos is appeal to logic.
- What kind of audience does the author want?
- Does the author succeed in making the reader emotional? If yes, in what manner?
- Does the author assume about the characteristics, knowledge, and background of the readers?
Kairos refers to the work’s appeal to timeliness.
- Does the author do a good job in the interconnecting the points of the work’s message?
- Does he have enough material to support his arguments? If yes, what kind material is used?
- Is the author’s main argument in line with the effectiveness of the text?
- Does the year of the work’s publication and the events of the time play a positive or a negative factor in the work’s success?
- Does the work reflect people’s attitudes towards the issue during that particular time?
The writing part
The topic. Remember that the work’s topic should never be the focus of a rhetorical analysis. The rhetorical analysis discusses the HOW and not the what. As expressed earlier, this is only possible if you have thoroughly read and understood the work. The understanding of the how an author persuades his readers will make it possible for you to come up with your own arguments and find flaws in published arguments of other critics.
Introduction. This should include the work’s title, author, and date of publication. Provide some important background information as well in the next sentence. The last two sentences of your introduction should contain your thesis statement. You must make it a point to give an overview of the author’s rhetorical strategies. Advisably, it should be a short summary that can also be understood by readers who are not familiar with the work.
Thesis statement. Your thesis must not simply echo or support the argument of the author. Your thesis should be about the success or failure of the author’s argument through the rhetorical strategies that are used.
Example of a good thesis statement: Through the use of struggles of immigrant Italians against the excesses of organized crime, Mario Puzo’s argument about the importance of loyalty and familial ties within the early 20th century Italian-American community possesses validity.
Body. This contains your criticism and analysis of the rhetorical strategies used by the author. For every single argument regarding a particular rhetorical strategy, you must come up with evidence from the work to back it up or refute it.
Conclusion. This should be more than just a follow-up to your thesis statement. Use the conclusion to explain the importance of the entire rhetorical analysis. Does it debunk previously published perceptions about the work? Does it further solidify previously published analyses? Your conclusion should persuade the reader about the importance of the knowledge of how the author expressed his argument.