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David Bishop

Jessi Thomsen

ENC 2135 Section 031

1 October 2017

Analyzing the Components of Rhetoric

Rhetoric has been around for centuries. Actually, rhetoric has been around for over two

thousand years, dating back to the fourth century. Ancient philosophers such as Plato and

Aristotle were fascinated with rhetoric and wrote lengthy essays on how they interpreted it. Its

been here since before the birth of Christ, but what exactly is rhetoric? In a summary, Aristotles

explanation of rhetoric is the ability in any case to persuade. Platos definition can be described

as the art of winning the soul by discourse, however Plato viewed rhetoric as more of a

philosophy rather than an art. As one can see, there are multiple views on what people believed

rhetoric was millennias ago. As time has progressed, different philosophies and ideas from

numerous scholars have slowly merged and formed todays interpretation of rhetoric. Yes,

people have their different views on what they believe rhetoric is, but there are underlying parts

to rhetoric that can be seen universally. These underlying parts include purpose, genre, the

rhetorical situation and its components, and most importantly, audience. In order to grasp the

concept of rhetoric, these definitions can be explained by how they relate to the audience to piece

together the puzzle of rhetoric.

Audience is the key to understanding rhetoric. If one is trying to publish his or her work,

they need someone to read it. We can relate to Bitzers The Rhetorical Situation for this, a

rhetorical audience must be distinguished from, a body of mere hearers or readers: properly
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speaking, a rhetorical audience consists only of those persons who are capable of being

influenced by discourse and of being mediators of change (Bitzer 8). The speaker, or who

created the piece of writing, wants an audience to listen, understand, and can relate to his or her

rhetorical piece. In a sense, the speaker is trying to do as Aristotle described; to persuade. But in

rhetoric, the speaker is more focused on having the audience understand and open up to his or

her ideas. However, as Bitzer was saying, the speaker cannot try and convey his message to a

body of mere hearers or readers. In order for rhetoric to be successful, the speaker will try and

speak to a smaller and more specific audience, one he or her is directly trying to influence. It is

almost ironic because the final goal is to pass an idea off to the speakers audience. Yet, in order

to reach the final goal, the speaker must begin with realizing who his or her audience is. The

audience is the beginning and the end of the rhetorical situation. A great example of this is

Jamaica Kincaids Girl. In her piece of work, Kincaid realized that her audience would be

mothers and daughters. So what Kincaid did was wrote her piece in a way a mother would talk to

her daughter. The way she wrote Girl is strange and does not have any proper grammatical sense

to it, however it sticks out to the audience she is trying to reach. Kincaids short, choppy

sentence fragments grabs her audiences attention by relating it to the way a mother would speak

to her daughter: constant commands (Kincaid). As one can see, audience is a huge role in writing

rhetoric, as it goes hand in hand with multiple other key terms involved in rhetoric.

The purpose of a rhetorical piece relates very well with the audience. The purpose is the

speakers message or idea he or she is trying to convey. So the speaker must have the right

audience to fit the purpose. A teacher wouldnt be teaching toddlers calculus. That can be a way

of understanding how the speaker needs a right fit. So to fit the audience, the teacher should be

teaching colors and the alphabet. Rather than teachers and toddlers, Bill Collins commencement
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speech embodies the idea of purpose and audience. Bill Collins was given the opportunity to

address college graduates. Knowing this, he wrote his speech to fit the audience. He went on to

discuss the importance of taking things slow in life. He knew these college graduates were going

to be going buck wild once they graduated, so he chose his topic wisely upon this notion. His

speech was well written as his purpose was seeing the world in a slower stance (Collins). The

audience, college students, can easily relate to the purpose, or message, of slowing down.

Graduating students can understand that they need to find a job, settle down, and maybe just

slow down. By identifying the connecting the purpose and audience properly, the rhetorical

situation will become much more evident and effective. Finding a purpose to fit your audience

can be challenging, as it doesnt pop into the speakers head immediately. There must be certain

context and conditions to allow the audience to understand the purpose of the rhetoric piece.

In his essay on the rhetorical situation, Bitzer strongly believed that constraints, along

with audience, were a huge role in creating the rhetorical situation. As stated in the previous

paragraph, there must be certain context in the speakers work to allow the audience to get the

picture. These are constraints. While it may seem like a simple term, constraints have a large

variety and dictate a lot of the discussion amongst the audience. Because thats the whole goal

right? The speaker needs to get to the audience in an effective way. Bitzer generically describes

constraints as persons, events, objects, and relations which are parts of the situation because

they have the power to constrain decision (Bitzer 8). While this is a broad term to describe what

constraints are, Bitzer goes into further detail to discuss what they can be. He lists examples such

as beliefs, attitudes, traditions, motives, etc. Aristotle and Plato even identified constraints.

Aristotle identified the proofs that originate from the speaker as artistic proofs and Plato

explained the other constraints actually within the rhetorical situation as inartistic proofs. We
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can list different types of constraints all day but we must focus on the point of the constraints.

What do they do? Constraints allow the rhetorical piece to have its own voice, or a sense of

genre. They allow the rhetorical piece to be unique. Like Aristotle described, the speaker is going

to write their piece with influences from his or her life, like their beliefs and traditions and what

not. More importantly, the constraints found within the rhetorical situation are what bring the

audience in. The speaker needs the audience. The Oatmeals Youre not going to believe what

Im about to tell you brings together the articles constraints wonderfully. The speaker is

charismatic, reaching out to the audience in a way to get their attention. The constraints in Youre

not going to believe what Im about to tell you speak to a certain audience and allows the speaker

to do his or her job: get the message amongst the audience. In the case of this blog, the audience

can be seen as people who may have a closed minded attitude. The charismatic approach that the

author is taking make up the constraints within this rhetorical situation. In one of the first lines,

the author states, Youre not going to believe these things I tell you. And thats okay (Youre

not going to believe what Im about to tell you). The author understands that his or her desired

audience can be stubborn minded, and almost teases them by telling them that they are stubborn.

Then the author uses their alluring personality and prior knowledge to deliver the purpose to the

target audience.

Now we have a better understanding of rhetoric. As you can see, it can be a mess. There

are multiple components within rhetoric that fit certain roles. But understanding the certain roles

within rhetoric allows one to grasp the concept of rhetoric. It is a machine with multiple moving

gears turning each other. The gears must work together and cohesively to reach a final product.

Getting to the audience is the final product for rhetoric. And as stated previously, there are

multiple tools needed to do that. The speaker must begin at his or her audience in order to piece
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together his or her work. The constraints found within the rhetorical situation shape and form the

writing in order to deliver the message, or purpose to the audience. Once the message is

delivered, discourse and discussion open amongst the audience and this is great, because that is

the whole point of rhetoric: to open up the minds of others to new and different ideas.
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Works Cited

Bitzer, Lloyd F. The Rhetorical Situation. Philosophy and Rhetoric, vol. 1, 1968, pp. 1-14.

Collins, Bill. On Slowing Down. 3 June 2003, Choate Rosemary Hall, Wallingford, CT.

commencement address.

Kincaid, Jamaica. Girl. The New Yorker, 26 June 1968.

Youre not going to believe what Im about to tell you. The Oatmeal,

http://theoatmeal.com/comics/believe. Accessed 1 October 2017.


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Bring in more of sources

See them in same light