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The Rhetorical Devices Used in the Ballot Or the Bullet Speech

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As an introduction, I would like to define the meaning of rhetoric, it is “the art of effective or persuasive speaking or writing, especially the exploitation of figures of speech and other compositional techniques.” In other words, rhetoric is a technique of using language effectively and persuasively in spoken or written form. For example, the public speech of Martin Luther King, (I have a dream) the effect and power of it still exist; though it was given on 1963 still exist. The main focus of the speech was about civil and economic rights. In addition to that, to end the racism in the United States of America. I have a dream is considered among one of the iconic speeches.

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Persuasion is the use of appeals to reasons, values, beliefs, and emotions to convince a listener or reader to think or act in a particular way. In other words, persuasion is like a tool used for personal gain. For example it is used wisely in campaigns, commercials or even on trial. Persuasion is often interpreted by the person’s authority or power; just like Martin Luther King when he gave his speech, I have a dream. Persuasion is a skill that is really important for many different kind of sector. For example in marketing, if persuasion is a well skilled you have, you will attract many customers and get a lot of benefits by increasing your income.

Classical rhetoric have three basic components which are: speaker, message and audience. The speaker must be someone reliable, trustworthy and speaks only based on facts. Speakers should choose their words wisely, take good care to demonstrate common sense and good judgement. The speaker should also be able to have a valuable message, which is the content of what the he /she has to say. It also content gestures, facial expressions and the use of certain words with the tone. They say (the more you know about your audience, the more likely your chances of communicating successfully), meaning if you know their taste, personal background, cultural circumstances and expectations; the more you will likely gain their interest and succeed.

Rhetorical strategies are is a method used by the speaker or writer be in touch with their audience. It is a strategy that should be specific in order for them to approach their audience and fulfill their goal. There are three main strategies; logos, ethos and pathos.

Firstly, logos is the appeal to reason which relies on logic and reason. It also depends on inductive or deductive reasoning. For example, President Barack Obama address on his 2016 State of the Union “We’re in the middle of the longest streak of private sector job creation in history. More than 14 million new jobs, the strongest two years of job growth since the ‘90s, an unemployment rate cut in half. Our auto industry just had its best year ever.” We can see that what he said is based on logic, furthermore used evident as facts, numbers, and statistics.

Secondly, ethos is actually based on the character’s credibility and ethics of the writer. For example, East of Eden by John Steinbeck: “exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in the world. And this I would fight for: the freedom of the mind to take any direction it wishes, undirected. And this I must fight against: any idea, religion, or government which limits or destroys the individual”. He is clearly appealing to the sense of ethics specifically about freedom. In addition to that, fight against the idea of limits between each individual and clearly stating that case should be followed by the rest.

Thirdly, pathos is all about emotions and feeling, to point out the wants of the audience. For example, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen: “For, as almost as soon as I entered the house, I singled you out as the companion of my future life!” Pride and prejudice is known for its pathos, where the confession of Mr. Collin to Elizabeth touched the feelings of the readers in which they feel emotionally intense by his proposal.

There are also many rhetorical devices; I have chosen alliteration, amplification, metaphor and simile to define and explain. To begin with, alliteration is the repetition of the same consonant sounds in successive or closely associated syllables within a group of words, even those spelled differently. For instance, “Show Shawn Sharon’s shabby shoes”. Then, amplification, which is when the writer decorates the sentence by adding more information to increase its value. For example, the writer might say, ‘The dog is an excellent breed, full of intelligence, loyalty, and overall healthfulness.’ After that, the metaphor is the figure of speech that directly refers to one thing by mentioning another like “raining cats and dogs”. Last but not least, simile. Simile is also a figure of speech that directly compares two things from one another, like “she’s as bright as the moon”.

The Ballot or the Bullet

The ballot or the bullet is the title of the speech given by the human rights activists, Malcolm X. The speech was delivered on April 03rd 1964 in Cleveland, Ohio. Malcolm advised African Americans to take their rights to vote, he then warned if the government continued to prevent and mistreat the African Americans from giving them full equality, they might necessarily start a fight for it. The purpose of Malcolm X when he wrote this speech was to convince the black people (Americans) to fight for their rights, to stand up for one another and to fight against the government for their rights. He used many rhetoric styles in order to unite all the African Americans once and for all.

To start with, I am going to point out the rhetoric strategies from his speech which are ethos, pathos and logos. Firstly, the ethos, when Malcolm X said “Let the world know how bloody his hands are. Let the world know the hypocrisy that’s practiced over here. Let it be the ballot or the bullet. Let him know that it must be the ballot or the bullet.” He is pointing out his ethics by being brave telling the world how it is corrupt in America with the crisis that is going on. In addition to that, “I say again, I’m not anti-Democrat, I’m not anti-Republican, I’m not anti-anything.” He is letting the world know that he is not opposing or against anything, but racism and the unfairness of the American government against his people who are black African Americans.

Secondly, pathos, Malcolm said “I’m nonviolent with those who are nonviolent with me”, here we can feel his emotions by stating out that if nobody harms him or his people, they won’t fight or do anything against the corrupted government. Moreover, he also added “I’m speaking as a victim of this American system. And I see America through the eyes of the victim. I don’t see any American dream; I see an American nightmare”, here it is clear that he is mocking the speech of Martin Luther King (I have a dream). Now the difference between these two speeches is that Martin’s purpose is peace, unlike Malcolm, he sees that peace is not going to end racism and that everything is turning into a disaster each and every single day.

Thirdly, the logos in speech, Malcolm said “Don’t be throwing out any ballots. A ballot is like a bullet. You don’t throw your ballots until you see a target, and if that target is not within your reach, keep your ballot in your pocket.” Here, he points out facts based on his logic, he says that the ballots are like bullets against black people in America which will aim and shoot them. He shows the violence that black people faces on daily basis. Next, he said “How can you thank a man for giving you what’s already yours? How then can you thank him for giving you only part of what’s already yours?” He points out that the corrupted government fooling the world with the votes by showing them that black people are having their rights with voting and in the end they just do the ballot which is the system of voting secretly.

Now, we can clearly see that Malcolm X used tone (the attitude of the writer towards the audience and diction (style of speaking by the writer’s choice of specific words). Now I am going to point out some of the rhetoric devices he used in his speech below:

  • Anaphora: it explains one thing by another because in which they are alike. Malcolm stated “control of the economy of your community, control the housing, control the education, control the jobs, control the businesses”. He is saying that the black people need to go forward and take power with authority to get their rights. To get the things they need and want.
  • Antithesis: it is the connection of two things. Malcolm said, “I’m not going to sit at your table and watch you eat, with nothing on my and call myself a diner”. Here he is connecting the food the government are eating with the black people’s rights. To point out that he is not going to allow it happen.
  • Hyperbole: it refers to exaggeration. He said “’It’ll be the ballot or it’ll be the bullet. It’ll be liberty or it’ll be death. And if you’re not ready to pay that price don’t use the word freedom in your vocabulary.’ He makes an extreme between the ballot or the bullet with liberty or death. He stating that they are ready to take it on the next level.
  • Parallelism: uses of words / phrases with a similar structure. He points out “I’m not a Democrat. I’m not a Republican, and I don’t even consider myself an American”. Here he means that he does not see himself as American because he don’t any of his rights.
  • Sarcasm: is a rhetoric device to mock someone with purpose. Malcolm said “That’s we are Africans who are in America. You’re nothing but Africans, nothing but Africans.’ Here it is clear that the he stating that the government see the black people, though they are Americans as black Africans. They do not value the black people and they see them as slaves, nothing more and nothing less.

To conclude with, Malcolm X speech is considered as one of the most influential speech of all time. It has also mentioned important themes such as, the ballot, the government, human rights, Black Nationalism and self-defense. I chose this speech because it motivated me in many different ways. It is also powerful and I have learned that not skin color can define who I am and what rights I can have. Everyone should be equal and racism must come to an end.

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