Neruda is trying to persuade his audience that letting the Standard Oil Company into a South American country to drill for oil is an unfortunate idea that leads to violence, dehumanization, and regime change. All...
Rhetoric is the art of persuasion, so rhetorical devices are devices that persuade an audience.
Neruda is trying to persuade his audience that letting the Standard Oil Company into a South American country to drill for oil is an unfortunate idea that leads to violence, dehumanization, and regime change. All of this puts the country in the company's control.
To persuade us of this, Neruda uses negative imagery. Imagery is description that uses the five senses: sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell.
The poem begins with the sinister imagery of the oil company drilling for oil. Words like "dead years," "imprisoned plants' roots," "cold liquid," and "pale engineer" paint a picture in our minds of death and imprisonment. The imagery leaves a sensation of coldness. It as if what was beneath the earth should have been left alone.
The speaker then moves to the effects above ground of Standard Oil Company's presence in the country, describing this, as well, with negative imagery. The oil company, for example, sends its "obese emperors" with "guns," who are "suave smiling assassins." The company hires South Americans to fight their wars. Neruda pictures this as
The Bolivian [who] wastes away
in the jungle with its machine gun
Notably, he use "its," not "his" to describe the Bolivian, underscoring how the oil company's presence leads to dehumanization.
Neruda also employs alliteration, which is putting words that begin with the same consonant near each other, to add emphasis to his imagery. For instance, he uses repeated hissing "s" sounds in "scaly systems/became strata" and "suave smiling."
Another rhetorical device Neruda employs repeatedly is the putting together of opposites, called antithesis. For instance,
A President assassinated for a drop of petroleum
shows the dehumanization of the quest for profits and the excessive use of force to gain very little: a human life for a drop of oil. It is hyperbole that emphasizes how mad the quest for profit is.
Listing is a device that also reveals how people have become the same as inanimate objects, reduced to commodities that can purchased:
buy silk, nylon, cigars
petty tyrants and dictators
Neruda is relentless in his condemnation of the oil company's control of a country, showing it as a violent, dehumanizing force that puts profit over life and community.