In his essay "Me Talk Pretty One Day," how does David Sedaris use pathos, egos and logos?
In his essay “Me Talk Pretty One Day,” David Sedaris uses various examples of logos, ethos, and pathos, the three traditional modes of rhetorical persuasion. “Logos” means an appeal to logic or reason; “ethos” means an appeal rooted in one’s own character; and “pathos” means an appeal to the emotions. Examples of these three kinds of appeal include the following:
- Sedaris’s appeals to logic and reason often occur by ironic implication. In other words, he depicts behavior that seems illogical and unreasonable, thus implying that he himself values logic and reason. A good example occurs when he states that spending time with his French teacher was like being
in the presence of a wild animal, something completely unpredictable. Her temperament was not based on a series of good or bad days but, rather, on good or bad moments.
Statements such as this one suggest, by contrast, that Sedaris is an even-tempered, basically predictable (because basically rational) person. As the essay proceeds, the teacher seems less and less mentally stable (unlike Sedaris). Sedaris does not seem unreasonable at all in his expectations of other people, but his teacher seems at times mentally unstable and psychologically sadistic.
- Sedaris implicitly appeals to ethos because his word-choices and sentences suggest that he is intelligent, articulate, educated, witty, and as aware of his own foibles as he is of the foibles of others. He seems to have no particular ax to grind; his purpose does not seem propagandistic; and so he quickly comes to seem a narrator whom the reader can trust.
- Early in the essay, Sedaris – describing how well dressed his fellow students are – says that he himself felt, in contrast, “not unlike Pa Kettle trapped backstage after a fashion show.” This self-deprecating appeal to humor might be considered an example of an appeal to emotion. Humor, in fact, is one of the most emotionally appealing aspects of the entire essays, as the paragraph following the sentence just quoted demonstrates. Sedaris’s ability to make himself (as well as others) the butt of his humor is one of the most emotionally satisfying aspects of this piece. He comes across as witty but not pretentious, as clever but not conceited.
- Comic exaggeration is another way that Sedaris makes his essay appealing. It is unlikely, for example, that the French teacher really accused the Yugoslavian student of “masterminding a program of genoicide,” but the mere excessiveness of this claim seems funny.
Ethos, logos, and pathos are the three pillars or legs of argument that come down to us from Greek rhetoric. Like a table or a stool missing a leg, if your argument lacks one of these elements, it is likely to collapse and convince nobody.
Ethos is the character you project. One can have a good ethos or a poor ethos. Figures such as Benjamin Franklin and George Washington have a positive ethos because they represent virtues we admire, such as frugality and honesty. Consequently, they are often used in advertising. People like Hitler and Stalin have a terrible ethos, one we associate with tyranny and genocide.
Pathos is emotional appeal. Almost no argument can be effective without touching our emotions in some way.
Logos is the appeal to logic. We appeal to logic by providing facts and statistics.
Sedaris is writing a comic essay about learning French, so he goes out of his way to create the comic character of a forty-one-year-old American struggling to learn a new language. He also creates a hard-working ethos so that we have sympathy for him. His humor works, making the reader laugh and creating a positive ethos.
Sedakis uses logos to ground us by providing us with facts: for example, he sets the scene by telling us he is in Paris and mentions some of the nationalities of his fellow students.
The essay, being comic, leans most heavily on pathos. Sedaris wants us to laugh, and he also wants us to sympathize with the students. To achieve both goals, he makes the French teacher an over-the-top sadistic monster that the reader learns to hate. Some examples of how he characterizes her are as follows:
We didn’t know it then, but the coming months would teach us what it was like to spend time in the presence of a wild animal, something completely unpredictable. Her temperament was not based on a series of good and bad days but, rather, good and bad moments.
We soon learned to dodge chalk and protect our heads and stomachs whenever she approached us with a question.
Because of the teacher, we as an audience begin to laugh and cry with Sedaris. An example of this is when the teacher says to him:
I really, really hate you.
Sedaris tells us: "Call me sensitive, but I couldn’t help but take it personally."
By using pathos, Sedarkis dramatizes a logical point: learning a language is very difficult. However, he makes his point in a humorous way that enhances his ethos and keeps us emotionally engaged.