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John McPhee’s book The Pine Barrens is typical of many pieces of nonfiction prose in its use of the three basic kinds of rhetorical appeal: pathos (an appeal to emotion); logos (an appeal to reason and logic); and ethos (an appeal based on trust in the character of the writer or speaker).
Logos is emphasized strongly right from the start, as McPhee shows his thorough knowledge of the facts about the Pine Barrens, including their size, history, and geographical traits, and other features. Typical, for instance, is the following sentence from the first chapter:
This area, which includes about six hundred and fifty thousand acres, is nearly as large as Yosemite Park.
The book is full of sentences such as this one – sentences showing that McPhee has done his homework. He has studied the facts about the area as well as visiting the area and getting to know it personally.
Pathos is also a major feature of McPhee’s narrative. For instance, at one point he quotes Jim Leek, a resident of the Barrens, who explains why he likes living there:
“There ain’t nobody bothers you here. You can be alone. I’m just a woods boy. I wouldn’t want to live in town.”
McPhee shows obvious sympathy with such sentiments. Emotions such as the ones expressed by Leek appeal to the desire, in many people, to be left alone, to enjoy freedom, and to escape from the pressures of big cities.
Ethos appears mainly in the ways McPhee interacts with the residents of the Barrens, shows his respect for them, and wins their respect in return. His relationship with Fred Brown is a good case in point. The various ways in which the “Pineys” accept and welcome McPhee imply that we should also find him an acceptable and trustworthy guide to their region, lifestyle, and values. McPhee comes across, in his writing, as honest, unpretentious, and genuinely curious about other people and unfamiliar places.
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