Repetition and parallelism are very powerful rhetorical devices that (1) are attention getting; (2) aid in memory implanting and retention; (3) lend potency to statements by endowing them with the impression of extra merit; (4) lend implicitly (i.e., indirectly) to making the author's point.
The sort of repetition Baldwin employs in this brilliant essay--that has been too long and too often overlooked as being too truthful and radical, as truth is most often too radical--occurs in the form of the repetition of a group of words, or the variation on a group of words, at the beginning of successive clauses. This sort of repetition is a figurative rhetorical device categorized as a word scheme that is called an anaphora. To put it another way, the device of anaphora employed by Baldwin is a figure of speech that is a rhetorical word scheme in which word groups are repeated at the beginning of successive clauses, as in the excerpt:
I would try to teach them – I would try to make them know – that those streets, those houses, those dangers, those agonies by which they are surrounded, are criminal. I would try to make each child know that these things are the result of a criminal conspiracy to destroy him. I would teach him that if he intends to get to be a man, he must at once decide that he is stronger than this conspiracy and that he must never make his peace with it.
One might say the basic word group is "I would" or "I would try." One might also say the basic word group is "I would teach." In this last case then, the variations of the word group, each starting with "I would," are:
- I would try to teach
- I would make
- I would try to make
- I would suggest
Parallelism is the repetition of a structural element in two clauses. This lends to rhetorical balance and enhanced comprehension. Variations on parallelism may be between elements of a sentence, elements between clauses, or between concepts. It is this last variation of parallelism that Baldwin often employs.
Baldwin parallels the concept of worth related to the worth of the educated black student to the concept of the worth of the "standards in this country ...." In this parallel, Baldwin says the black student may decide what "[they are] worth" while simultaneously saying that "very few standards" (i.e., value guidelines) in American "are worth" respect. This large parallel of concepts pits a black student's worth as an individual against the standards that keep him oppressed by what Baldwin directly calls "criminal" behavior.
Another such parallel is the juxtaposition of America's history to the history of the world, which is " larger, more daring, more beautiful and more terrible ..." than America's "provincial" (i.e., small-minded, narrow, illiberal) history:
American history is longer, larger, more various, more beautiful and more terrible than anything anyone has ever said about it, so is the world larger, more daring, more beautiful and more terrible, but principally larger ....