The goal in a rhetorical analysis is to understand how a person’s way of creating the text or thing to be shared influences the audience. You can do a rhetorical analysis of any type of text or art, including: photographs, dance, advertisements, music, architecture, poems, essays, letters, and websites.
For Unit three we are focusing on completing a rhetorical analysis of one essay from the 2013 Mercury Reader. In order to do this you must be able to read the essay that you chose from multiple perspectives and think about the text in-depth by taking its rhetoric apart and examining why it is critical to what the essay is attempting to communicate to the target audience.
By exercising rhetorical analysis and critical thinking you should gain a better sense of how you construct an argument and of what types of rhetoric could be used successfully to reach an audience in your writing.
At its barest, analysis is a sequence of considering the context in which the essay was written alongside the actual text of the essay in order to determine how they are working together. There are two types of context that you will need to keep in mind as you read and analyze.
Immediate context refers to when a text was actually written or delivered. An example being Abraham Lincoln’s 10-sentence, 272-word Gettysburg Address, which he delivered on November 19, 1863 where he followed a speaker who had addressed the crowd for two hours. With this perspective, we can gather from the immediate context why it may have been a smart move for Lincoln to choose to communicate his argument in such a concise manner.
The broader context refers to the larger historical circumstances in which a text is produced or read. The broader context of the Gettysburg Address was the American Civil War, which had taken thousands of lives and was far from over at the time Lincoln spoke. Lincoln’s brief remarks have been immortalized because he could envision an end to the war.
Then there is the text itself which has to do with the actual mechanics of what is being said—the language, syntax, and persuasive rhetoric at work. If we were to look at the language of the Gettysburg Address we can gain an appreciation of his tactics and approaches used to speak to the crowd that ultimately proved strong enough to continue to speak to audiences throughout history.
By moving back and forth between text and context you can gain insight about how an author achieves certain effects. Some questions to get you started analyzing immediate context are:
-What is the author’s purpose: to change beliefs? To inspire? To educate? To entertain? To praise or blame?
-How did the author come to this subject? Consider the ethos of the writer.
-What else has the author written?
-Who is the intended audience?
-Where was this first published and in what year?
-What are the attitudes and beliefs about the subject addressed?
Let’s take a look at Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address together and see what can be said about its context and actual text.
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.