List at least three rhetorical devices that Patrick Henry uses in his "Speech to the Virginia Convention." Give quotations from the speech of each device you list.

Three rhetorical devices that Patrick Henry uses in his "Speech to the Virginia Convention" are rhetorical questions, parallelism, and emotional appeals.

Expert Answers

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

Patrick Henry uses allusions in his speech. An allusion is an indirect reference to another text or person or event which adds meaning to the new text. In one example, Henry suggests that the colonies ought not to hope that England will simply allow them to leave the empire, though...

See
This Answer Now

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

Start your Subscription

Patrick Henry uses allusions in his speech. An allusion is an indirect reference to another text or person or event which adds meaning to the new text. In one example, Henry suggests that the colonies ought not to hope that England will simply allow them to leave the empire, though "We are apt to shut our eyes against a painful truth, and listen to the song of that siren till she transforms us into beasts."

He claims that they may want to believe that England will deal justly and fairly with them because it is certainly preferable; however, believing this will distract them from the truth until it is too late. The sirens were monsters in ancient Greek myths: they lived on an island and sang when ships passed by. Sailors, unable to resist their song, would steer toward their voices and crash into the rocks and die. Henry compares England to these sirens and the colonies to the unwitting and doomed sailors who listen to them.

Henry also uses a device called asyndeton: the absence of conjunctions in a series. He says, "The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave." Normally, there would be the conjunction "and" before "the brave." However, when we remove conjunctions in a list, it has the effect of emphasizing and compounding the items in that list. It is more succinct and powerful as a result.

Henry also uses a false dilemma: he presents two choices as the only two choices available. He insists that liberty can only be obtained by rejecting England and fighting her; the only other option is slavery, and this is not acceptable. He says, "I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!"

For Henry, because slavery is not a viable option (and I'm also not entirely sure that it's accurate, given the fact that there were actual slaves who did not have life as good as the white colonists did), there are only two: liberty or death. He posits this idea as though it were clear.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

Videos

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

1.  Rhetorical questions.  This is where you ask the audience a question that is meant to make them ponder, to elicit thought or feelings, and to answer in a way that supports your argument.  Henry's speech has many, many rhetorical questions.  I'll list a couple below:

"Shall we gather strength by irresolution and inaction?...Are fleets and armies necessary to a work of love and reconciliation?"

He asks these questions hoping to elicit strong emotions in the audience, that work them in favor of his argument.

2. Parallelism.  This is a bit hard to explain, but parallelism is where you have a very balanced sentence structure with equal parts.  You have a series of sentences that are all written in the same way, with the structure in the same order.  This helps you to sound planned, prepared, poetic, rhythmic, and helps the audience remember what you've said.  The best example of this:

"We have petitioned; we have remonstrated; we have supplicated; we have prostrated ourselves before the throne, and have implored its interposition to arrest the tyrannical hands of the ministry and Parliament."

Note how the sentence structures are similar--we have _____; we have ______; we have ________.  Henry just fills in the blanks.  That is parallelism, and makes his speech sound more professional, and hence is more persuasive.

3.  Logical and ethical arguments.  This is where Henry uses logic (facts) and ethics (human rights, and universal truths of right and wrong) to make a point.  For example, for logic, he argues that if Britain is so intent on making peace with America, why are there so many British troops in our streets?  That's a logical argument.  Here's a quote:

"what means this martial array, if its purpose be not to force us to submission? Can gentlemen assign any other possible motive for it? Has Great Britain any enemy, in this quarter of the world, to call for all this accumulation of navies and armies? No, sir, she has none."

He also uses ethical arguments.  Consider his last line, "but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death!" which appeals to the ethical argument that freedom is worth pursuing, even at the cost of a life.

I hope that those examples help a bit; good luck!

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

Patrick Henry uses the following devices in his "Speech to the Virginia Convention":

1. Rhetorical questions. e.g. "I ask gentlemen, sir, what means this martial array, if its purpose be not to force us to submission?" "Has Great Britain any enemy, in this quarter of the world, to call for all this accumulation of navies and armies? No, sir she has none." "Why stand we here idle?"

2. Emotional appeals. e.g."Suffer not yourselves to be betrayed with a kiss." (This is also a Biblical allusion, and as such appeals to one's emotional faith.) "Three millions of people, armed in the holy cause of liberty, and in such a country as that which we possess, are invincible by any force which our enemy can send against us." "There is no retreat, but in submission and slavery! Our chains are forged! Their clanking may be heard on the plains of Boston!" "I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death!"

3. Logical appeals. e.g. Our petitions have been slighted; our remonstrances have produced additional violence and insult; our supplications have been disregarded; and we have been spurned, with contempt, from the foot of the throne. In vain, after these things, may we indulge the fond hope of peace and reconciliation." "It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter."

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team