In his book Hunger of Memory, how does Richard Rodriguez use the methods of pathos, ethos, and logos in the chapter titled "Aria"?

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The ideas of logos, pathos, and ethos go all the way back to the ancient Greeks, and it might be worth looking at Aristotle's treatise on rhetoric for the origin of these terms. In Richard Rodriguez's 1982 autobiography Hunger of Memory, Rodriguez employs all three of these rhetorical devices. Looking at the "Aria" section, there are many examples of pathos, which is the appeal to the reader's emotions. Because he is telling his story, he, like many memoir writers, wants to enlist the reader's sympathy. He does so by showing his younger self an isolated figure. In these passages, he recalls going to school and knowing very little English, as well as being surrounded by white students. There is a tension between wanting to learn the language spoken by his peers and preserving his native language, which his parents speak at home. There's a poignancy and nostalgia to his writing, made more powerful because his style is understated and subtle. He's not deliberately playing to our emotions, at least not in a heavy-handed way, which is another rhetorical device.

Logos is the appeal to reason or intellect, and this is most evident in his discussion of what he sees as the shortcomings of bilingual education. He discusses his own experiences, as well as what he sees as the differences between Spanish and English. Keeping with this approach, his tone in this section is measured, and he is careful to avoid generalizations, as well as to give some consideration to the other side of the argument.

The third side of the rhetorical triangle is ethos, which has to do with the character of the writer or speaker. This is, perhaps, the least utilized of the three. We can assume that because he has written a book and that he is drawing on his own experiences, he is a reasonably credible source, but, without looking into his biography, we cannot know very much of his character, aside from what he tells us.

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In the first few pages of the chapter titled “Aria” from Richard Rodriguez’s book Hunger of Memory, Rodriguez uses the three traditional means of rhetorical persuasion: ethos, pathos, and logos. Ethos creates a sense of the speaker’s attractive ethical or moral character; pathos appeals to the audience’s feelings; and logos appeals to our sense of reason or logic.  Some examples of Rodriguez’s use of these three means of persuasion include the following:

  • Rodriguez begins by presenting himself as a young Hispanic boy, attending an American school for the first time with only a very limited command of English. Our instinct is to feel sympathy for the boy, if only because we can all relate to being young and feeling vulnerable.
  • Rodriguez notes that he was vastly outnumbered in his school by people of different ethnic and economic backgrounds. Again our natural instinct is to sympathize with anyone who might be perceived as the “underdog.”
  • Rodriguez notices his mother’s face...

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  • disappearing from the school on his first day there. Once more we are naturally inclined to sympathize with a child facing a new and potentially threatening experience without the help and guidance of its mother.
  • Rodriguez comments that although he felt nervous on his first day of school, he knows that the other children also felt nervous as well. He therefore shows his sense of fairness and his fundamental lack of self-pity.
  • Rodriguez, now speaking as an adult, carefully explains the goals of bilingual education as those goals are understood by its proponents. Once more he presents himself as fair-minded and objective.
  • When Rodriguez announces his opposition to bilingual education, he first reports the goals of the supporters of bilingual education but then he says,

I hear them and am forced to say no . . . (emphasis added)

His phrasing here implies that his opposition to bilingual education is not flippant or trivial. It is something he feels compelled to voice, either because of moral misgivings or because of practical experience or perhaps because of both. His use of the word “forced” implies that he expects opposition and perhaps even worse as a result of the stand he feels “forced” to take. However, his phrasing suggests that he feels that he has no other ethical choice but to say what he truly and sincerely believes. Rodriguez thus implies that he is honest, forthright, courageous, and concerned about the well-being of children.

  • Speaking as an intelligent and educated adult, Rodriguez introduces the topic of bilingual education.  He shows that he knows when this idea was first proposed, by whom it was first proposed, and the reasons that led people to propose it.  He thus implies that he is a well-informed and trustworthy commentator.
  • Next, Rodriguez reports more of his own family background, implying that his opposition to bilingual education will be rooted in very practical reasons with which he is quite personally familiar. His opposition will not be irrational but will instead be the result of reasons he personally knows all too well.
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