Identify four appeals to pathos in paragraphs 3-5 of James Baldwin's speech "A Talk To Teachers".

Expert Answers
lprono eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Pathos is defined as an appeal to the audience's emotions and is considered a persuasive technique. The author of a speech uses images or stories that his /her audience can sympathize with in order to win their approval for his/her main argument.

"A Talk to Teachers," published in 1963, was originally delivered as a speech, "The Negro Child - His Self Image", the same year. In the paragraphs that you mention as well as throughout the speech, Baldwin appeals to his audience using both techniques associated with pathos: using metaphor or storytelling and the overall emotional tone which conjures up images with which the audience can relate to. Paragraph 3 starts with a strong emotional sentence

any Negro who is born in this country and undergoes the American educational system runs the risk of becoming schizophrenic.

Baldwin explains his powerful statement by making more references to images that he is certain will have a strong hold on his audience as they convey America's national myth of freedom and social mobility. In his second appeal to pathos, he says that, on the one hand, the African American child is born "in the shadow of stars and stripes," a symbol that guarantees liberty for all and the possibility to improve one's social standing ("He is part of a country in which anyone can become president, and so forth"). Yet, on the other hand, he is also consistently reviled by mainstream America as part of a race with no cultural or social heritage:

his past is nothing more than a record of humiliations gladly endured.  He is assumed by the republic that he, his father, his mother, and his ancestors were happy, shiftless, watermelon-eating darkies who loved Mr. Charlie and Miss Ann, that the value he has as a black man is proven by one thing only – his devotion to white people.  If you think I am exaggerating, examine the myths which proliferate in this country about Negroes.

 In this quote I have italicized what I consider another appeal to pathos: the institution that Americans often cite as a source of national pride, that republic which they built in opposition to the colonial monarchy, is the very source of stereotypes and discrimination against African Americans. Baldwin's implicit statement here may also refer to the trauma of the Civil War: what was the use of the Civil War if the state continue to perpetrate the stereotypes that were part of the slave-holding culture of the South?

In the last paragraph mentioned in your question, Baldwin makes his appeal to pathos by telling a story, reminiscent of his own childhood experiences, to prove how an African American child who ventures outside his neighborhood into the city understands his inferior and unequal condition.

droxonian eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Actually, the term "appeal to pathos" is a tautology. The Greek term "pathos" itself means "an appeal to the emotions," and is a type of persuasive rhetoric described by Aristotle. It may be accompanied by ethos (appeals to ethics) and logos (appeals to logic).

In paragraphs 3-5 of Baldwin's speech, there are several examples of pathos. Note the mention of "the stars and stripes" in paragraph 3, a sentimental way of referring to the American flag. Americans, more than people in most other nations, hold their flag in extremely high esteem and this phrase conjures thoughts of what it is meant to represent. To be "born in the shadow" of that flag, then, creates an image of a black child who is oppressed, rather than uplifted, by this great symbol. The pathos here draws upon the listener's attachment to the flag and its values; it is an emotional appeal to the listener in the hope that they will feel moved by the way the black children of the US are being failed. Likewise, the quotation "liberty and justice for all" prolongs this appeal. In the same paragraph, Baldwin seeks to provoke an emotional response--in this case, discomfort and, probably, shame--from the use of offensive terms to describe black people: "watermelon-eating" and "darkies".

In the following paragraph, the pathos is built upon the listener's presumed fondness for children, and attachment to the idea of childhood innocence. Children, Baldwin says, "look at everything, look at each other, and draw their own conclusions." The listener recognizes this depiction of the innocent, trusting child and, persuaded by the rhetoric, should then examine their own prejudices. Later in the same paragraph, the innocence of the child is contrasted to the black people whose shoulders bear "a terrible weight" which "menaces" the aforementioned innocent children. The imagery forces the listener to imagine the optimistic child confronted with this "menace," and the listener is moved by the picture.

johnnychi | Student

It was very details