Essay #2: Rhetorical Analysis
Begin by reading:
- Rahawa Haile, "Going It Alone" 50 Essays
- Nancy Mairs, "On Being a Cripple," 50 Essays
Your writing task:
Choose one of the essays above and write a five-page essay which analyzes the rhetoric—the way the piece is written and the choices made by the author.
- Keep your task in mind. You are not writing a summary or the gushy review that says, "You should really read this piece."
- Your essay is not a critique of the author's ideas. (A valid rhetorical analysis question, however, is whether the author's strategies worked to advance the ideas or worked to get in their way.)
- Two basic questions which every author must answer are:
The many choices each author makes (language, examples, and so forth) should reflect the author's responses to these questions. In this essay you should discuss whether the author's choices worked.
- What are you trying to do?
- Who are you trying to do it to?
Some questions to stir your thinking:
- Writers "construct their audience"—they imagine what sort of reader is their target. What sort of audience has the author constructed? (No, it's not "everyone who wants to read this." That's a cop-out comment.) Is her audience only herself or does it include people unlike her? What is she attempting to do to them? How do you know?
- Much of Rahawa Haile's essay focuses on the community the author feels with other through-hikers, with Black people in the news, and with Black outdoors-people. Why, then the title?
- At the beginning of Haile's essay is a conversation with a hiker who is trying to figure out her race. He seems relieved when he finally gets it: "You're African, not black-black. Blacks don't hike." Why did she throw that in? Is she making fun of his ignorance? Is she putting distance between herself and the majority of American Blacks? What does this have to do with the purpose of her essay?
- "Going It Alone" is a narrative, but it does not have a linear structure. What is the structure? What effect does this have? Why did Haile structure it this way?
- Mairs calls herself a cripple. That is somewhat offensive. (If I call such a person a "cripple," especially to their face, people would assume that I am rude and trying to hurt the person.) Why did she do that? Is she only trying to get sympathy for herself? Is this essay aimed at entertainment, political persuasion, or what? How do you know?
Hints for success:
- As a writer, you should read everything in two different ways: as a reader (interested in the content) and as a writer (interested in the craft). This paper is about the craft.
- Keep asking "how?" and "why?" questions about the writer's art.
- Be like the kid who goes to the baseball game and keeps asking strategy questions. For a serious baseball fan, there's a lot more than the score; real students of the game ask why a bunt is a good idea at this point in the game.
- The point of this paper is to be thoughtful and analytic. Avoid these approaches when you write. They are neither thoughtful nor analytic; they are simply easy ways to fill the assigned number of pages.
- "Here's a direct quotation from the essay and here's what it means." This sort of translation paper assumes that your audience is really dim. At best, it's sort of a dictionary exercise, and at worst, it assumes that the original author did not do a good job of writing (so you have to improve on her work).
- "Here's a long summary and I approve of what the author said." This is even worse than the translation paper because you have not given it any thought whatsoever. You just awarded the author a smiley face. These authors do not need your approval.
- Padding with long direct quotations: Print out a copy of your rough draft and highlight all the direct quotations with a yellow marker. If you have a quotation which runs more than four printed lines, you need to indent it as a separate paragraph. (See Writer's Reference §MLA-3b "Setting off long quotations.") Now ask some questions. (Believe me, the person grading your paper will ask these questions.)
- How many of these long quotations do you have? More than one per page? Why? Are you just filling space?
- Why is this quote so long? Is it all vital to your argument? Or do you expect the reader to dig the point out because you didn't feel like focusing?
- When you finally got around to discussing that quotation, did you have anything interesting or analytic or thoughtful to say? Did the reader learn anything from your words? Or did you just give us "Here's another quote"?
- Avoid the standard cop-outs: "I'm not Black. I'm not a hiker. I'm not crippled. I'm not a woman. Therefore I cannot write this paper." Look again at the assignment above. It does not ask for you to discuss your personal experiences. It's not about you. (Bonus—most college writing is not about your own thoughts, feelings, and experiences. When you learn to write about something besides yourself, you have made a great step forward as an academic writer.)
- One point of both of these essays (and, indeed, the essays by Douglass and Anzaldúa which you read for the first assignment) is to explain a minority experience to a majority audience. So yes, you can appear in the essay. If you are not part of the minority group to which the author belongs, did the essay invite you in or shut you out? And if you are part of the author's group, how well did the essay represent your common experience?
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Revised 6/28/21 • Page author: Curtis Allen • e-mail: email@example.com.