In the past, I learned something called rhetorical strategies: logos, ethos, and pathos. It is an interesting topic for me because it unpacks the different methods that authors could use to appeal to their audiences. In this post, I will compare Ernest Buckler’s “Penny in the Dust” and C. S. Lewis’ “On Church Music”.
On the previous post, I wrote about my personal reflection on Ernest Buckler’s “Penny in the Dust”. Days after reading that short story, I learned a new topic called rhetorical strategies. If you don’t know what rhetorical strategies are, think of it like marketing strategies. What do these companies use to attract you to buy things? 50% discount, use pretty models, catchy slogan, and more.
I think this is an interesting topic to learn because our media is bombarded with information that tries to persuade us to do something. By learning rhetorical strategies, we could evaluate things from media and understand the messages that it is trying to convey. In other words, we could be more careful in believing what the media says.
In rhetorical strategies, there are 3 important components: logos, ethos, and pathos. By examining these three things in literature works, we could see authors’ approaches in using each of these conventions and trying to convince audiences of their messages.
Add the evaluation with comparison of 2 different works, it helps to see different methods between these two authors. Indeed they use different strategies, but their goals are the same. The goal is to engage with the intended audience. Buckler wants to deliver the message of grace to his audience while Lewis provides fair arguments between two conflicted factions in church setting.
Since we already talked about Buckler’s work, I’ll give a quick summary about Lewis’ “On Church Music”. Lewis shows the conflict between 2 groups in church setting: musical groups VS not-so-musical groups. He provides perspectives from both sides, and explains why both sides are equally right when he points out to the spiritual side of worship. In the end, it is all about glorifying God. You can look at a copy of the essay here.
We shall evaluate each work by looking at each of the rhetorical strategies. It may sound challenging, but trust me, it gives me insight on how things are the way they are. So, if you’re somebody who is clueless about literature, we are in the same boat here. After you finished reading this post, you’ll get a little bit smarter. #themoreyouknow
Logos is a Greek word that means “word”. Basic, right? Word conveys something: truth, facts, feeling, emotion, fallacy, lie, and more. In rhetorical analysis, we are looking for the facts and truth in each work because that is what people looking for in a text. Audience wants to know if the author is knowledgeable with the presented facts and can be trusted; or the author is just a lazy bum that copies and pastes their stuff from Wikipedia.
With the right use of logos, authors are interacting with readers’ logic of reasoning. Instead of force-feeding us with a bunch of facts, these two authors arrange their works in such a way that they make the readers stick to the end.
In Buckler’s “Penny in the Dust”, we know that it is a short story (at least from what I told you). From start to finish, we heard the story from Peter’s point of view. So, the conflict in this story may sound subjective to Peter, but we as readers could understand the story from Peter’s perspective. This could also impact the reader’s emotion, and we’ll talk about that later in this post at the pathos section.
We know everything from Peter’s perspective. We know who Peter is from how open he is in the story. The author also makes his audience engaged with Peter through Peter’s rhetorical questions. He asks himself as a part to convince the readers that he is telling the truth. Furthermore, as we acknowledge Peter’s truthfulness, the only way for readers to know the character of Peter’s father is through Peter’s description. It gives validity to his description, including about his father. As the story goes on, we will see how Peter’s development in the story reveals more about the father’s character.
To summarize, Buckler convince his reader through conventions like short story, first person’s point of view, and rhetorical questions. These technicalities in Buckler’s work enhance his message to persuade his audience. Now let’s change the focus to Lewis’ work that is more formal and professional through essay. As much as I hate essays, Lewis did a great work in this essay especially because it is about one of my favorite topics; worship in the church setting.
In Lewis’ essay, “On Church music”, we can see that Lewis is writing a form of an essay: a persuasive essay to be exact. When you start to read the essay, you can notice a different tone that Lewis uses to persuade two different groups that he tries to approach through this essay. When I said he persuades his audience, it does not mean that he begs for approval or forces his ideas to readers.
The formal yet familiar language in this essay helps readers to take this matter seriously. Although Lewis break one of the rules in making essay, which is to avoid first person’s point of view (which I did a lot in this blog), he does that on purpose so readers can differentiate which one is his personal opinion and which one is his objective observations or analysis.
The persuasiveness also comes from the fact that Lewis provides arguments from both sides. Lewis himself as a layman in the musical world gives evidence to justify the ways of the unmusical but he also speaks from the musical sides and successfully provides a sound argument.
By providing arguments from both sides, readers could assess the problem, which is fair I would say. In addition to that, it is how he separates his own opinion from the objectives. It gives clarity for discussion.
Ethos means “character”. It reveals the character of the author. Is the author being truthful? Sincere? Or maybe sneaky and wants to lead us into falsehood? For me, I think about ethics since it has a similar spelling to ethos. This is where readers find out whether the author is being genuine or manipulative.
Since Lewis is talking about problems in the church, his readers would expect that he is being honest and fair, especially knowing that Lewis is known for his work in literature and theology.
Through this essay, Lewis shows fairness between two groups. He starts off with a quick disclaimer that he is not an expert in music, yet he can show the common problems and give solutions to each group.
He is appealing to both groups by showing fair arguments from both perspectives. This impartiality is honored in society, especially in a diverse socio-cultural environment.
With Buckler, this ethos can be seen through Peter’s narration. It is an honest intrapersonal conversation in his mind. We can see the struggle in his heart and mind from Peter’s description about his situation. Peter communicates little details in his life whether he likes it or not. Therefore, those little details are useful for this short story to convey a message of truth (in the realm of this story, at least). Honesty is a characteristic that is appreciated for telling reality as it is whether he or she likes it or not. That is why audience can trust Buckler, because he shows honesty through Peter.
Compared to other rhetorical strategies, pathos is the strongest of them all. It is a strategy that appeals to emotion. I bet that you have already seen this trick before. Do you know those advertisements about a product (usually shampoo or insurance) that has a touching story? Then later it makes you feel “I’m such a terrible human being, I must change”? If you know what I’m talking about, then it is because of pathos. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, just look for “touching advertisement” on Youtube. Some ads are so good and touching that it can make you cry.
So why are we crying for shampoo ads? Even some of the ads does not show the product itself. The answer is because of the rhetorical strategy of pathos.
Authors intentionally want to connect with their audience’s emotion. When the audience forms connections with the author’s message, it creates an impact to the audience. The author’s message becomes imprinted to the audience’s memory because it stirs their emotions. The author persuades the audience with emotions; when it is done properly, the author can convince the audience to agree with their message.
In “Penny in the Dust”, Buckler engages with reader’s emotion through Peter’s honesty. Through Peter’s narration of his thoughts and observations, readers could see Peter’s character development. From reckless, he become prideful for admitting his fault. The pivoting moment that engage with our emotion is when the father shows grace to Peter.
For us, we might not be doing something as foolish as Peter’s “treasure hunting” game, but we did it at some extent in our lives. The reason why the father’s character is so touching is because he did the unexpected thing.
When I read this story for the first time, and I got to the point where Peter was admitting his mistake, I thought, “Is this kid going to get beat up by his dad?” Instead, what happens is that the father did not hurt him at all. He gave consequences to Peter by keeping the golden penny but he still shows love and forgiveness to Peter.
This unconditional love is the element that could touch our emotion because it is a godly characteristic. Not many people can show this character, but it is a highly valued quality in human nature.
In Lewis’ case, it is hard to identify the pathos because it is an essay. It is a formal essay. However, Lewis can gain touch the emotion of his audience by talking about the spiritual aspects. This is a part of our ontology that is rarely talked about because it cannot be seen by our human eyes but we can feel it in ourselves.
The bottom line of Lewis’ argument is the attitude of our spirits in glorifying God. Whether we like to sing or not, we should look at our attitude towards God. We are wired differently by God; thus leads to different preferences in worship.
The suggestions and warnings in his essay is a practical solution for both conflicted groups to reach harmony and unity in the Body of Christ. This empathy and sympathy to each other could move his readers to sympathize as well to each other.
Phew… That was a long post, but that is all my observations from comparing Buckler’s short story and Lewis’ essay. If I want to do more analysis on these two, this post could have ten thousand words in it (right now its 1800ish). I hope you can learn something as well, and please share your thoughts on the comment box below.