Diction, imagery, tone, theme, characterization, structure, and syntax. These are the classic literature elements that we teachers teach every year and still, many students don’t get it. What do we do about it? What’s the point of us reteaching something they don’t understand or ever use again? I think we are all missing the real point.
The real point is one word: Rhetoric.
Anything written and published is ultimately used to persuade or argue.
- Articles are used to persuade you to believe that the author is knowledgeable and that you should believe their perspective, their purpose, and ultimately desire to follow them for more information.
- Short stories and novels are used to make you follow a person or group of people to understand their worldview so you change the way you think about those people. They could also be used to entertain you to persuade you to follow the author and recommend the content to others.
- Content published in pop culture like music, plays, shows, and movies are all made to change culture. They criticize politicians, make moral claims, and give you hope or a new perspective on a common human experience.
Every published word can be analyzed for rhetoric.
Rhetoric is the art of arguing or persuading. When rhetoric is used, all the literary elements must be considered:
- Diction, or word choice, is used for the specific purpose and objective of the piece. Each word matters to create a feeling, understanding, and new belief about a subject.
- The imagery shown within the text influences the images the audience sees in their heads and their belief about the event and subject.
- The tone, the “sound” of the content, is created specifically to get the audience to receive the mood that influences the audience’s emotions about the topic.
- The theme is the ultimate moral or takeaway that the author wants the audience to believe about the subject.
- Characterization: The author creates characters in fiction or highlights people in nonfiction (and omits characters or people) to get you to see the perspective they want you to see and believe about the event, subject, or character.
- The structure (overall layout of the piece) and syntax (sentence structure) are used to create a specific experience the author intends to get the audience to connect to and agree with the author about the topic.
At all times, the author is in control of these literary elements. The authors make choices to create the content ONE WAY so that if they change it to another way, they have a different objective they want the readers to experience.
Some examples include:
- Politically-focused writers portray those characters with the same political beliefs in a way to make them victims to the evil side’s misguided beliefs.
- Authors write fiction stories and novels with a world-view that they believe is true; they make the protagonist struggle to overcome the challenges that the antagonist with the opposite worldview has. Often the antagonist tries to control and manipulate the protagonist and causes them to rise up within their belief system to show the world (or the readers) that they are the ones that are more correct.
- Musicians create sound and lyrics that affect the emotions of their audience by writing about events their listeners will understand and connect to so that they can inspire them to continue on the path the artist wants them to go on.
Are you a teacher or homeschool parent? I have had great success teaching rhetoric to high school students. The concept doesn’t have to be daunting or impossible. The students are excited and interested in literature now that I’ve introduced these concepts. It’s all worth the time and effort and it really doesn’t take as much time as you think. Teaching rhetoric gets them to understand WHY they are analyzing the purpose, audience, and appeals. It makes my entire year better. I created a resource to teach rhetoric just for you here!
Everything written is used to argue or influence an audience. Even this. Did I convince you?