How do I identify context, use of persuasive language, and structure of speech?

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Context is the background to a story, the part that is often not stated but serves to shape and frame the actual events. There are several different aspects to context, including:

  • Place or geographical setting: This would include the city or country in which the story is set, and whether the action takes place indoors or outdoors in an urban or a rural area. Place can be real or imaginary.
  • Period: A story can be set in the period in which it was written or can be historical fiction, set in the past, or can be futuristic (e.g. Star Wars).  
  • Real or Imaginary: Some stories are set in the real world and others (fantasy, science fiction, some heroic epics) in a mythical or imaginary universe.

For persuasive language, you can talk about it using rhetorical terms, many of which can be found in the eNotes Guide to Literary Terms. First, you should think about whether the persuasive speech appeals to reason or the emotions. Next, you can look at whether it involves inductive reasoning (examples) or deductive reasoning (general principles).

For structure, you might work out a timeline of the sequence of events of the story, examining whether it progress from beginning to end or starts in the middle and then fills in a backstory through exposition or dialogue.

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Another way to understand what is meant by context is "setting." The context or setting of the text is determined by the circumstances under which the story/text/speech is taking place, including where, when, the audience, the mood, etc. 

Persuasive language can be identified by analyzing the use of various rhetorical devices. One heuristic for evaluating the use of persuasion is the Aristotelian triad of ethos, pathos, and logos. These modes of persuasion refer to the different types of authority/legitimacy arguments can appeal to. Ethos can be located where the author is making an ethical appeal on the basis of their credibility (expertise or pedigree). Pathos can be identified in verses where the author elicits emotional responses from the audience - by using techniques such as meaning-loaded language, examples or stories of emotional events, and/or tone of voice. Logos can be identified on the basis of the author's use of logic or reason - such as using theory, citing facts, constructing historical analogies, etc. However, in addition to these broader modes of persuasion, specific rhetorical devices can also be analyzed for evaluating the efficacy of persuasion, some of these include: alliteration, allusion, anaphora, antithesis, epithet, hyperbole, metaphor, metonymy, oxymoron or paradox, parallelism, etc. 

The structure of the speech can be identified through analyzing how the argument is built, arranged, and organized. There are many different ways to structure an argument. One way is in terms of a chronological sequence, where order is temporally imposed through signaling words such as: first, then, finally, next, or specific dates. Another way to organize the structure is in terms of cause and effect, where events are described and then causal factors explicated. Additional techniques include: problem/solution, compare/contrast, how-to directions, etc.

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