A Catalogue of Rhetorical and Other Literary Terms from American Literature and Oratory

By Zimmerman, Brett | Style, Winter 1997 | Go to article overview

A Catalogue of Rhetorical and Other Literary Terms from American Literature and Oratory


Zimmerman, Brett, Style


The editors of Style have very kindly consented to publish this prospectus of my unpublished textbook, An Introduction to Style in American Literature and Oratory. In addition to an extensive bibliography, the project consists of a lengthy catalogue of rhetorical devices, a list of readings from American literature and oratory, and exercises about the readings in the form of questions or analytical "O.P.A." (on-page analysis) assignments. It is designed for university students as an introduction to style as it can be analyzed primarily in prose and such forms of expression as sermons and secular oratory. In teaching style this text discusses grammar and has a smattering of linguistics, but for the most part it is concerned with rhetoric as the art of persuasion (especially in oratory), eloquence, and stylistic versatility - figures of speech used in prose or speeches for various reasons: for auditory agreeableness (to delight the audience), syntactic ingenuity (to impress the audience), drawing comparisons (similitudes), or creating vivid images in the minds of readers or listeners.

It was natural for me to select American literature and oratory as the subjects of this text because, after all, my field of specialization is U.S. literature and culture, but also because I believe no one has put together a text like this. Other rhetors who have catalogued the classical tropes and schemes have chosen their illustrations almost solely from ancient Greek and Roman or British sources (Shakespeare being a favorite, for good reason). Some rhetors have demonstrated that rhetoric is still very much employed in our time by quoting various twentieth-century figures (with Winston Churchill being a favorite). The typical Arts undergraduate, however, might get the impression that rhetoric is something that concerned the ancients and the British but was neglected on the other side of the Atlantic - that Americans, for instance, were so concerned with founding a political utopia, taming the wilderness, settling the land, establishing businesses, and making a buck, that the tradition of stylistic eloquence found no place in so pragmatic a culture. Less naive undergraduates may have heard of some legendary orators - Daniel Webster, Clarence Darrow - or may know something about the speeches of Abraham Lincoln or Martin Luther King from a sociohistorical point of view. Senior undergraduates and graduate students may also be aware of detailed stylistic studies of specific American authors - may know, for example, that more has been done with Hemingway, James, and Melville; that relatively little has been done with Poe. Still, with all this, we need an introductory text that provides a survey of American speeches and prose works and that is dedicated to exploring the stylistic qualities of those readings. This way we can see that the classical rhetorical figures - used so well by the ancient Greeks and Romans, kept alive throughout the Middle Ages, employed with brilliance by Renaissance writers, resorted to as well by eighteenth- and nineteenth-century British authors - this way we can see that the tradition of classical rhetoric has been integral to American culture and literature also, right from the beginnings until our own time.

We go back to the colonial era in American history for our earliest reading - Jonathan Edwards's sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God." This text demonstrates, first, some typical aspects of the Puritan sermon - its appeal to reason (logos), for instance, and illustrates some rhetorical and stylistic devices that we would expect in sermons, such as dialogismus, Biblical parataxis and polysyndeton, epicrisis, cataplexis, categoria, dehortatio, adhortatio, oraculum, and protrope. At the same time, the assignment requires students to consider some idiosyncratic features of Edwards's style: his use of metaphors, antithesis, certain types of rhetorical questions, redundancy, syncrisis, enargia. …

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A Catalogue of Rhetorical and Other Literary Terms from American Literature and Oratory
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