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The rhetoric of fear is operationalized by illustrating the dangers in treading to a 'new ground' -- that is handling black American independence from slavery and prejudice.
For the white Americans, Washington provides a threatening scenario of the capacity and power of black Americans to create destabilization in the American society should emancipation and establishment of an egalitarian society fails to become a reality in the country. While fear induced from the black Americans stemmed from the fear of mishandling the new and free black American society, fear induced from white Americans is the same kind of fear that has been used by black American propaganda leaders like Malcolm X, which cites violence as one of the possibilities or consequences that may happen if black Americans does not receive the independence that they deserve to have. Inducement of fear from the white Americans is stated in the speech as follows: "Nearly sixteen millions of hands will aid you in pulling the load upward, or they will pull against you the load downward...we shall prove a veritable body of death, stagnating, depressing, retarding every effort to advance the body politic."
Apart from the rhetoric of fear, other forms of persuasion adopted by the speaker include the use of socio-economic and historical arguments in order to promote the good cause of the black Americans towards establishing their independence. Using the language of history, Washington convinces his audiences that black Americans have already become a significant part of American history, the very people who "tilled your fields, cleared your forests, builded your railroads and cities, and brought forth treasures from the bowels of the earth, and helped make possible this magnificent representation of the progress of the South." Apart from the essential role that black American slaves have contributed to the socio-economic prosperity of the country, the speaker also uses the language of religion in eliciting emotional reaction among his audience. He successfully entices his fellowmen towards his line of argument by using a religious anecdote at the start of his speech. By encouraging white Americans to "Cast down your bucket where you are," Washington is able to use the influence of religion as an element that convinces his audiences to cooperate and perceive that his intentions are sincere and will benefit both the white and black Americans.
Lastly, the use of rhetorical figures aims to create an interesting piece to be addressed to a diverse audience. Through these figures, Washington also establishes his credibility and creativity not only as a speaker, but as a political orator and writer as well. The speech utilizes three forms of rhetorical figures, which include anaphora, understatement, and situational irony.
Anaphora is demonstrated through the repetition of the phrase, "Cast down your bucket where you are" all throughout the speech. The repetitive use of this phrase is to provide emphasis and inculcate in the minds of the audiences the primary message of the speech, which encourages cooperation between black and white Americans, an implication that is evident in the said religious phrase. There is also evidence in the use of understatement, which is found in paragraph 2, wherein he assesses poorly the difficulties and oppression that black Americans have experienced through the years by saying, "it is well to bear in mind that whatever other sins the South may be called to bear, when it comes to business, pure and simple, it is in the South that the Negro is given a man's chance in the commercial world." He also commits situational irony by stating this passage, wherein Washington seeks emancipation and cooperation from the black and white Americans, respectively, yet creates the impression that freedom does not mean black Americas will no longer be controlled and remains indebted by the white Americans. The speech suggests that they will remain faithful to the white Americans, a conflict between his call for emancipation and the reality that he in fact, implies that he is for the control of white over black Americans.
Roberts, E. And H. Jacobs. (1998). Literature: an introduction to reading and writing. NJ: Prentice-Hall.
Washington, B. (1895). E-text of "Atlanta Exposition Address." Available at http://www.ashbrook.org/library/19/btwashington/atlantaaddress.html.[continue]
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