What rhetorical strategies does Ralph Waldo Emerson employ in Chapter 1, "Nature," of his work titled Nature?
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In the opening chapter of his work titled Nature, Ralph Waldo Emerson employs a number of different rhetorical strategies. Among those strategies are the following, which are the three main components of any effective argument:
- Pathos, or an appeal to the reader’s emotions. This strategy is seen in the very opening paragraph of Chapter 1, in which Emerson tries to inspire a sense of wonder and awe when he describes the beauty of the stars. Note, for instance, the literally exclamatory language (designed to express and arouse emotion) in the following sentence:
If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how would men believe and adore; and preserve for many generations the remembrance of the city of God which had been shown! But every night come out these envoys of beauty, and light the universe with their admonishing smile.
- Ethos, or a demonstration of the good character of the writer. Throughout the first chapter, Emerson uses the word “I.” By using this word, he implies that he and the reader share the same reactions. In other words, when Emerson uses the word “I,” he often is thinking of the reader as much as he is thinking of himself. Nevertheless, when he does use the word I,” he implies that he shares the values he attributes to the “I.” In many cases those values are highly appealing and attractive and lead us to think well of Emerson himself. Note, for instance, how the word “I” and other personal pronouns are used in the following famous passage:
In the woods, we return to reason and faith. There I feel that nothing can befall me in life, -- no disgrace, no calamity, (leaving me my eyes,) which nature cannot repair. Standing on the bare ground, -- my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite space, -- all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eye-ball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God.
In this passage, Emerson presents himself in an attractive way by saying, for instance, that when he is in the woods he lacks any “mean egotism” and feels as if he is a part of God. These statements might at first seem instances of pride, but Emerson implies that all right-minded people react this way when they are in the woods. Emerson, in other words, presents himself as not trying to call attention to his own special virtue or worthiness; instead, he presents himself as merely claiming that he is a representative human being who responds as other people do to the same stimuli. He presents himself as the spokesman for values he attributes to us. He presents himself as a writer who merely records what everyone else also feels.
- Logos, or an appeal to logic and reason. Emerson’s use of logic and reason is visible, for instance, in the final paragraph of the first chapter, where he writes that “. . . it is certain that the power to produce this delight, does not reside in nature, but in man, or in a harmony of both.” The use of the word “certain” suggests that he is making an argument that he considers absolutely logically persuasive. In the second half the second, he covers all logical bases: (1) the power to produce delight does not reside in A, (2) but rather in B, or [the crucial word] (3) in a combination of A and B. Anyone who disagrees with argument 1 will find comfort in argument 3. The argument here is presented as if it were highly reasonable – almost as if it were a logical proposition.
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