A Talk to Teachers

by James Baldwin

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Student Question

Where are examples of parallelism and repetition in the final paragraph of "A Talk to Teachers"?

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In the final paragraph of his essay titled “A Talk to Teachers,” James Baldwin effectively uses parallelism and repetition in a number of ways, including the following:

  • At one point Balwin refers to “the evidence – the moral and political evidence,” thereby using parallelism when referring to the adjectives and repetition when referring to the nouns. Both strategies are effective in emphasizing key words.
  • Baldwin again uses both techniques in the following sentence:

Now if I were a teacher in this school, or any Negro school, and I was dealing with Negro children, who were in my care only a few hours of every day and would then return to their homes and to the streets, children who have an apprehension of their future which with every hour grows grimmer and darker, I would try to teach themI would try to make them know – that those streets, those houses, those dangers, those agonies by which they are surrounded, are criminal.  [emphasis added]

Here the heavy use of repetition and parallelism, combined with the length of the sentence and the slow building-up of clauses, gives the sentence almost the rhythm of a sermon. The style here is highly oratorical, and it is easy to see from sentences such as this that the essay actually began life as a speech.

  • In subsequent sentences, Baldwin combines repetition and parallelism by saying, “I would,” “I would,” “I would,” etc.  Here the phrasing suggests determination and certainty. It amounts to a call to action.  Baldwin doesn’t simply describe what he thinks but what he would do.
  • In those same sentences, Baldwin keeps repeating, in parallel fashion, the verb “teach,” which is the crucial subject of this talk.

All in all, then, Baldwin uses the rhetorical devices of repetition and parallelism quite effectively in this talk.

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