What rhetorical questions and repetition does Sojourner Truth use in "Ain't a Woman?" and give examplesSojourner Truth's "Ain't a Woman?"

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droxonian eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This powerful speech, delivered by Sojourner Truth in 1851, uses the device of the rhetorical question many times to help the speaker persuade her audience to her point of view. The title question, "Ain't I a woman?" is repeated four times in the second paragraph of the speech, which also uses the rhetorical technique of climax. This entails positioning clauses of increasing importance one after the other, in this case punctuated by the refrain "And ain't I a woman?" for the purpose of emphasis. Here, Truth uses this structure to point out the wide range of things she, as a woman, has done, which fall outside the imagination of anti-feminist critics.

Later in the speech, we see more rhetorical questions: "If my cup...let me have my little half measure full?" The point of a rhetorical question is that the answer is implied to be obvious, such that anyone who does not agree with the speaker's point of view becomes persuaded that their own attitude is wrong. Preceding this question we see another: "What's that [intellect] got to do with women's rights or negroes' rights?" The answer, as implied heavily by the rhetorical question, is: nothing.

A rhetorical question is one which is asked without expecting an answer; there are also one or two instances in this text of non-rhetorical questions, such as "What's this thing in the head?" A member of the audience supplies the answer: "intellect."

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Sojourner Truth, a slave freed in 1827 delivered this extemporaneous speech at the Women's Convention in Akron, Ohion, held in 1851.  Interestingly, at the time that Truth gave her speech, it had no title and did not repotedly have the question "Ain't I woman?" in it once.  The original speech was recorded after the convention which was attended mainly by abolitionists.  Marius Robinson, an abolitionist himself and a newspaper editor recorded the words of Sojourner Truth; however, in 1881, the speech given was retold by Frances Gage.  The insertion of the rhetorical question "ain't I woman?" and the editing of Truth's words to include more speech characteristics of Southern slaves was also added.  This version has now become the historical standard.

So, in Gage's edition of Sojourner Truth's speech, the rhetorical question "ain't I woman?" is often repeated to add effect.  In addition to this question, there are others that demand no answer either, such as "But shat's all this here talking about?" and "What's that got to do with women's rights or negroes' rights?" as well as "Where did your Christ come from?"