Rhetorical Analysis

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

Rhetorical analysis
Edward P.J. Corbett, "Introduction." Rhetorical Analyses of Literary Works, ed. by E. Corbett. Oxford University Press, 1985

Rhetorical analysis is a form of criticism (or close reading) that employs the principles of rhetoric to examine the interactions between a text, an author, and an audience. Also called rhetorical criticism or pragmatic criticism.

Rhetorical analysis may be applied to virtually any text or image—a speech, an essay, an advertisement, a poem, a photograph, a web page, even a bumper sticker. When applied to a literary work, rhetorical analysis regards the work not as an aesthetic object but as an artistically structured instrument for communication.

As Edward P.J. Corbett has observed, rhetorical analysis "is more interested in a literary work for what it does than for what it is."

Sample Rhetorical Analyses

Examples and Observations

  • "Our response to the character of the author--whether it is called ethos, or 'implied author,' or style, or even tone—is part of our experience of his work, an experience of the voice within the masks, personae, of the work. . . . Rhetorical criticism intensifies our sense of the dynamic relationships between the author as a real person and the more or less fictive person implied by the work."
    (Thomas O. Sloan, "Restoration of Rhetoric to Literary Study." The Speech Teacher, 16, March 1967)
  • "[R]hetorical criticism is a mode of analysis that focuses on the text itself. In that respect it is like the practical criticism that the New Critics and the Chicago School indulge in. It is unlike these modes of criticism in that it does not remain inside the literary work but works outward from the text to considerations of the author and the audience . . ..

    "In talking about the ethical appeal in his Rhetoric, Aristotle made the point that although a speaker may come before an audience with a certain antecedent reputation, his ethical appeal is exerted primarily by what he says in that particular speech before that particular audience. Likewise, in rhetorical criticism, we gain our impression of the author from what we can glean from the text itself—from looking at such things as his ideas and attitudes, his stance, his tone, his style. This reading back to the author is not the same sort of thing as the attempt to reconstruct the biography of a writer from his literary work. Rhetorical criticism seeks simply to ascertain the particular posture or image that the author is establishing in this particular work in order to produce a particular effect on a particular audience."
    (Edward P.J. Corbett, "Introduction." Rhetorical Analyses of Literary Works, ed. by E. Corbett. Oxford University Press, 1985)
  • From "Show Me" to "So What?": Analyzing Effects
    "[A] complete rhetorical analysis requires the researcher to move beyond identifying and labeling in that creating an inventory of the parts of a text represents only the starting point of the analyst's work. From the earliest examples of rhetorical analysis to the present, this analytical work has involved the analyst in interpreting the meaning of these textual components—both in isolation and in combination—for the person (or people) experiencing the text. This highly interpretive aspect of rhetorical analysis requires the analyst to address the effects of the different identified textual elements on the perception of the person experiencing the text. So, for example, the analyst might say that the presence of feature x will condition the reception of the text in a particular way. Most texts, of course, include multiple features, so this analytical work involves addressing the cumulative effects of the selected combination of features in the text."
    (Mark Zachry, "Rhetorical Analysis." The Handbook of Business Discourse, ed. by Francesca Bargiela-Chiappini. Edinburgh University. Press, 2009)
  • Excerpt From a Rhetorical Analysis of Greeting Card Verse
    "Perhaps the most pervasive type of repeated-word sentence used in greeting card verse is the sentence in which a word or group of words is repeated anywhere within the sentence, as in the following example:
    In quiet and thoughtful ways, in happy
    and fun ways, all ways, and always,
    I love you.
    In this sentence the word ways is repeated at the end of two successive phrases, picked up again at the beginning of the next phrase, and then repeated as part of the word always. Similarly, the root word all initially appears in the phrase 'all ways' and is then repeated in a slightly different form in the homophonic word always. The movement is from the particular ('quiet and thoughtful ways,' 'happy and fun ways'), to the general ('all ways'), to the hyperbolic ('always')."
    (Frank D'Angelo, "The Rhetoric of Sentimental Greeting Card Verse." Rhetoric Review, Spring 1992)
  • Excerpt From a Rhetorical Analysis of Starbucks
    "Starbucks not just as an institution or as a set of verbal discourses or even advertising but as a material and physical site is deeply rhetorical. . . . Starbucks weaves us directly into the cultural conditions of which it is constitutive. The color of the logo, the performative practices of ordering, making and drinking the coffee, the conversations around the tables, and the whole host of other materialities and performances of/in Starbucks are at once the rhetorical claims and the enactment of the rhetorical action urged. In short, Starbucks draws together the tripartite relationships among place, body and subjectivity. As a material/rhetorical place, Starbucks addresses and is the very site of a comforting and discomforting negotiation of these relationships."
    (Greg Dickinson, "Joe's Rhetoric: Finding Authenticity at Starbucks." Rhetoric Society Quarterly, Autumn 2002)
  • Rhetorical Analysis and Literary Criticism
    "What essentially are the differences between literary criticism analysis and rhetorical analysis? When a critic explicates Ezra Pound's Canto XLV, for example, and shows how Pound inveighs against usury as an offense against nature that corrupts society and the arts, the critic must point out the 'evidence'—the 'artistic proofs' of example and enthymeme—that Pound has drawn upon for his fulmination. The critic will also call attention to the 'arrangement' of the parts of that argument as a feature of the 'form' of the poem just as he may inquire into the language and syntax. Again these are matters that Aristotle assigned mainly to rhetoric. . . .

    "All critical essays dealing with the persona of a literary work are in reality studies of the 'Ethos' of the 'speaker' or 'narrator'—the voice—source of the rhythmic language which attracts and holds the kind of readers the poet desires as his audience, and the means this persona consciously or unconsciously chooses, in Kenneth Burke's term, to 'woo' that reader-audience."
    (Alexander Scharbach, "Rhetoric and Literary Criticism: Why Their Separation." College Composition and Communication, 23, May 1972)