In paragraph 13 of Ralph Waldo Emerson's essay "Education," where do examples of allusion, analogy, rhetorical questions, imperative sentences, and sentence variety/pacing occur, and what are their effects?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Emerson uses various rhetorical devices, such as the ones you have mentioned, making him sound much more conversational than cerebral and philosophical. He wants his ideas to be accessible to everyone—he isn't trying to write or speak to a learned audience only—since he's pushing for educational reform. He wants schools...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

Emerson uses various rhetorical devices, such as the ones you have mentioned, making him sound much more conversational than cerebral and philosophical. He wants his ideas to be accessible to everyone—he isn't trying to write or speak to a learned audience only—since he's pushing for educational reform. He wants schools to do things differently than they have been doing, so he has to win people over. The effect of his use of many such devices is that he seems more congenial, more approachable, and even more reasonable and relatable, making his ideas about reform seem all the more friendly and reasonable too.

One example of Emerson's control of pacing comes early in the paragraph, as others have pointed out. The first two sentences, as you can see, are rather long and grammatically complete.

So to regard the young child, the young man, requires, no doubt, rare patience: a patience that nothing but faith in the medial forces of the soul can give. You see his sensualism; you see his want of those tastes and perceptions which make the power and safety of your character.

However, the third and fourth sentences are much shorter: "Very likely. But he has something else." In fact, the third sentence is not even a grammatically complete one. Emerson varies his syntax to retain his audience's interest as well as to maintain the conversational tone he adopts in order to make his ideas for reform more palatable. The shorter sentences mean more frequent full stops via the longer pauses we take when there is a period. More frequent stops makes him sound more deliberate as well as less formal in his delivery; thus, he is more likely to win his audience over.

He describes the patience and foresight required by the teacher, alluding to an "'eminent reformer' of whom it was said 'his patience could see in the bud of the aloe the blossom at the end of a hundred years.'" This allusion describes a person who was so patient, according to Emerson, that he could see a sprouting aloe plant and already foresee the flower that would take a hundred years to grow. The teacher must bring this level of patience and foresight to his classroom, especially as their class is full of children of different ages and abilities, and each requires such special care that, though the teacher hopes each morning for a "day of love and progress," they might end each day in "despair." Here, Emerson draws out his audience's sympathy for the teacher as well as helping them to realize how little can be accomplished in the best traditional classroom, let alone an average one.

Emerson employs an imperative sentence, or a command, when he tells his audience, "Try your design on the best school." He is attempting to communicate his belief that education needs to be reformed because even the best school is full of students that are too varied and different to learn well together, to make the teacher's job even remotely achievable. Emerson wants his audience to consider their ideas about education more closely, and so he literally makes them the subject of this sentence: the "you" is the implied subject, as in [You] Try your design." He wants each audience member to consider this command, and he relies on their good sense to come to the realization that traditional methods of education do not work.

Then, later in the paragraph, he employs a rhetorical question, one which he has structured in such a way as to elicit a uniform response that supports his own argument. He asks of the teacher, "Besides, how can he please himself with genius and foster modest virtue?" The implied answer is, of course, that he cannot. By compelling his audience to answer in the prescribed way, Emerson moves them closer to his way of thinking.

Having thus compelled both sympathy for the teacher as well as an understanding of why traditional education cannot work, Emerson ends the paragraph with an analogy: "the gentle teacher, who wished to be a Providence to youth, is grown a martinet, sore with suspicions; knows as much vice as the judge of a police court, and his love of learning is lost in the routine of grammars and books of elements." Rather than helping his students to learn and grow, the teacher becomes, instead, a disciplinarian only. He grows suspicious of his students and becomes, rather than a guiding light to his classes, more like the judge of a police court, accustomed to suspecting and accusing. How can students then receive a good education from him? They cannot.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

An allusion is reference to another work of literature or to historical events. Emerson alludes to an "eminent reformer," saying,

"his patience could see in the bud of the aloe the blossom at the end of a hundred years."

Emerson is actually poking gentle fun at this reformer for having too much patience.

An analogy or comparison of two unlike items comes when Emerson likens the teacher's desire to be helpful to his students to a teacher wanting to be "Providence [like a generous God] to youth."

A rhetorical question is one to which there is only one correct answer. It is asked for effect, not to elicit critical thought. One of these occurs in paragraph 13 when Emerson asks about the overworked teacher:

Besides, how can he please himself with genius, and foster modest virtue?

The obvious answer when the teacher has too many students is that he cannot.

An imperative sentence is a command, such as the following:

Try your design on the best school.

A command has no subject but starts with the verb.

Finally, Emerson varies sentence structure for effect by now and then inserting a short sentence into the paragraph, such as, after describing the patience and sensualism of the teacher in long sentences, he follows with a fragment and a short sentence:

Very likely. But he has something else.

This both slows us down and introduces a new subject.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Paragraph 13 of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay titled “Education” contains a number of rhetorical techniques that are effective in various ways. Examples include the following:

  • Allusion. An one point, Emerson alludes to

an eminent reformer, of whom it was said “his patience could see in the bud of the aloe the blossom at the end of a hundred years.”

Although the “reformer” remains unidentified in most editions of Emerson’s essays, Emerson, by citing this authority, gives added weight to his own argument. Emerson implies that he is well read and that he has given serious thought to his topic.

  • Analogy. One effective example of a use of analogy occurs when Emerson writes that a teacher hampered by unruly students “knows as much vice as the judge of a police court.” The comparison of a school (a place for education) and a court (a place for punishment) is memorable and striking, implying that these two places ideally should not resemble each other at all.
  • Imperative sentences. A good example of an imperative sentence occurs when Emerson writes,Try your design on the best school.” This sentence is effective because it is brief; it is blunt; it issues a command rather than merely making a statement; and it directly addresses the reader, thus stimulating the reader’s interest.
  • Rhetorical questions. Emerson uses a rhetorical question when, discussing the frustrations of a teacher pressed for time, he asks, how can he please himself with genius, and foster modest virtue?”

By asking a question rather than making a statement, Emerson encourages his readers to think for themselves, but he also, of course, implies the correct answer. He implicitly gives the reader credit for intelligence and good sense, because he implies that of course the reader will come to the right conclusion. The rhetorical question contributes to the sheer variety of types of sentences that Emerson uses, thus keeping his phrasing from seeming boringly predictable. In this particular case, the rhetorical question stimulates the reader to examine his own conscience and admit his own imperfections.

  • Sentence variety and pacing. Consider the opening sentences of the essay:

So to regard the young child, the young man, requires, no doubt, rare patience: a patience that nothing but faith in the remedial forces of the soul can give [29 words]. You see his sensualism; you see his want of those tastes and perceptions which make the power and safety of your character [22 words]. Very likely [2 words]. But he has something else [5 words].

By creating variety in the length of his sentences, Emerson prevents them from seeming boring or monotonous. He also gives particular weight and emphasis to the short sentences. They seem especially forceful.

All in all, Emerson's use of various rhetoric devices in this essay not only helps make the essays interesting to read but also helps display, by its own example, the advantages of a good education.

 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team