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In the chapter titled “On the Rainy River” from his book The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien composes an extremely long paragraph. This paragraph begins with the sentence “At the rear of the boat Elroy Berdahl pretended not to notice.” During the course of developing this paragraph, the narrator uses many different rhetorical strategies, including the following:
- emphatic repetition of the same words, as when the narrator refers to
a crushing sorrow, sorrow like I had never known it before. [emphasis added]
- emphatic use of fragments, as when the narrator describes his fantasy of escaping to Canada: “Silly and hopeless.”
- emphatic use of listing or catalogs, as when the narrator writes,
I would not swim away from my hometown and my country and my life [emphasis added].
- emphatic use of alliteration, as in the phrase “a sudden swell of helplessness” [emphasis added].
- emphatic use of similes, as when the narrator describes himself feeling “as if I had toppled overboard.”
- emphatic use of metaphors, as when the narrator says that “Chunks of my own history flashed by” [emphasis added].
- emphatic use of anaphora, or repetition of the same word or phrase at the start of each new clause or sentence, as in the sentence saying “I saw . . . I saw . . . I saw.”
By the time one reaches the second half of the paragraph, many of the strategies already discussed are repeated, sometimes relentlessly. Indeed, repetition is perhaps the basic rhetorical strategy used throughout this paragraph. It is in some ways the key to many of the others. The narrator often repeats words, sounds, clauses, and phrases, as when he writes,
I couldn't get my breath; I couldn't stay afloat; I couldn't tell which way to swim.
The paragraph as a whole is a rhetorical tour de force that uses practically every rhetorical strategy and literary technique one can imagine.
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