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Rhetorical Contrast

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The art of rhetoric is a literary technique used by writers to persuade readers

of one particular thing or another. In the following rhetorical anaylsis, I will examine

two particular authors attempt to persuade their audiences. The first anaylsis will be of

Amy Tan's essay "Mother Tongue", published in The Three Penny Review in 1990. It

seems to me that Tan uses, what I define as a type of inadvertent rhetoric in her essay.

She effectively persuades her readers simply by telling her story and not intentionally

applying any particular technique. Her story is so saturated with truth that she so easily

and effectively conveys her message and her ability to persude seems to happen so

naturally. In contrast, Min-Zhan Lu, in her essay "From Silence To Words: Writing As

Struggle," that appeared in the journal College English in 1987, seems to intentionally

use rhetorical persuasion to make her point and seems to fail in her attempt. Although

Tan and Lu's essays have a lot in common because the subject matter of both pertain to

cultural languages and the influences these ways of speaking have on individuals, Tan's

subtle use of rhetoric naturally produces a very clear and compelling message and Lu's

does not.

In "Mother Tongue", Tan seems to take a very modest approach to telling her

story. She proceeds to convey a pivotal time in her life when she is giving a talk to an

audience, that includes her mother. She is simply talking as she normally would in

similar situations, when she realizes that the language she is using is very different

than the language she uses with her mother. A language "with nominalized forms, past

perfect tenses, conditional phrases, all the forms of Standard English that I had learned in

school and through books, the forms of English I did not use at home with my mother."

(Tan ¶3, 5) She realizes that this type of speaking has "burdened" (Tan ¶3, 5) her. As a

natural progression, Tan realizes and reflects on the times when she was talking to her

mother, in the intimate language they share and discover that, "That was the language that

helped shape the way I saw things, ex­pressed things, made sense of the world." (Tan ¶7,

9) This realization had a dramatic impact on her life. So, all of this becomes clear to the

reader of "Mother Tongue", without forced examples, contrived thoughts, or

manipulation by Tan. By simply expressing her story and reflecting on situations that

coincide with her story, with apparent ease, she employs the tools of rhetoric and achieves

the results that a writer would desire in their attempt to persuade their reader. I would

almost say that herexamples are technically counter-rhetorical, because she gives many

accounts of how her mother's language had an apparent negative effect on her life. One

example of that is when she says, "I know this for a fact, because when I was growing up,

my mother's "limited" English limited my perception of her." (Tan ¶9, 1), "My mother has

long realized the limitations of her English as well." (Tan ¶10, 1), and "I think my

mother's English almost had an effect on limiting my possi- is bilities in life as well."

(Tan ¶15, 1) But, what becomes apparent from these simple expressions of personal truth,

is that, in spite of all these many challenging aspects that she experienced due to her

mother's language, Tan still concludes that her life has been enhanced by it. All of this

information that she relays culminates to a point 'contrary' to the evidence, which

ultimately makes her message even stronger. One would think that if her experiences

regarding her mother's language wasn'tso positive, that her present opinion about it

wouldn't be so positive. This further supports my



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