What rhetorical modes dominate Terry Tempest Williams' work titled Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place? How is the construction of her essay effective?

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vangoghfan | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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If one had to say that any one rhetorical mode is dominant in Terry Tempest Williams’ book titled Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place, one might argue that logos (the appeal to logic, facts, and reason) is the chief mode the book displays.  Numerous paragraphs of every chapter are brimming with assertions about facts.  Consider, for instance, the first few paragraphs of the book’s first chapter, titled “Burrowing Owls.” The opening paragraphs of this chapter contain, for instance, the following kinds of information:

  1. Numerous facts, especially geographical facts.
  2. A brief impressionistic overview of the Great Salt Lake.
  3. Facts about the basic differences between the Great Salt Lake and most other lakes in the world.
  4. Facts about different evaporation rates of cups and plates.
  5. Facts about the uniqueness of the Great Salt Lake in North America.
  6. Facts about the fluctuating water levels of the Great Salt Lake because of different influences.
  7. Facts about the cyclic nature of water levels in the Great Salt Lake.
  8. Facts about historical fluctuations in the lake’s water levels.
  9. Facts about the shape of the lake, which resembles a cone.

10.  More facts about the historical fluctuations of lake levels.

One could easily continue compiling such a list, but by now it should be clear that Williams likes to emphasize facts, thus using the standard rhetorical appeal to logos. She impresses us with her knowledge, her commitment to evidence, and her faith in reason.  She also appeals to our own desires for reason, evidence, and knowledge. The very first sentence of the book states a solid fact:

The Great Salt Lake is about twenty-five minutes from our home.

Much of the rest of the book is full of facts as well.

Something extra: If one wanted to analyze Williams’ book by using a recent kind of literary theory, one theory that would be especially appropriate would be “ecocriticism.”  This is the branch of literary theory that focuses on relations between humans and nature. Other approaches to literary analysis that seem especially appropriate to Williams’ work include historical criticism and archetypal criticism, the latter because the book deals with common human experiences, such as illness, death, and the desire to live.




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