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Rhetorical Analysis of Patrick Henry's Speech to the Virginia Convention
Sam Dowon 14 January 2013
Transcript of Rhetorical Analysis of Patrick Henry's Speech to the Virginia Convention
Michelle Hermes SUMMARY Patrick Henry is addressing the Virginia Convention, specifically President Peyton Randolph, on March 23, 1775. He is respectfully introducing his views on what action to take in regards to the conflict with Britain. The other members want to peacefully approach the situation, but Patrick Henry wants to prepare for war if Britain does not meet the colonists' demands. ANALYSIS Henry builds his ethos by expressing a religious passion. He positions himself as a Christian fighting for God. The Biblical allusion to the motif of light is the equivalent of fighting for God's truth. "I consider it nothing less than a question of freedom or slavery" (Henry 226). "It" refers to the colonists' need to fight. makes a Biblical allusion to Revelations 3:16, "So because you are lukewarm-neither hot nor cold-I'm about to spit you out of my mouth" Henry plays on the idea of the fallacy of an either/or statement. There will be either slavery or freedom, there is no middle ground. Attempting to linger between the two sides would displease God. This plays on pathos because the idea of slavery creates fear and sadness within the colonists' minds, whereas freedom creates happiness in their minds. It also appeals to the human fear of displeasing God. "An act of disloyalty towards the majesty of Heaven, which I revere above all earthly kings" (Henry 227). Henry juxtaposes God with the earthly kings. The diction that he uses shows the authority of God over a king (King George III). The word "majesty" is related with splendor and quality of God. "Earthly" has the reputation of being fallible, and "king" is only used to show a position of authority, and does not relate to character. Henry makes an appeal to ethos by making God seem more important than the earthly kings, as character and authority prevail over just authority. Henry instructs, "listen to the song of that siren till she transforms us into beasts" (Henry 228). The suggestion of the siren is a mythical allusion to the Odyssey metaphorically comparing how the British are giving the colonies false hope to how Circe lures men to her island, giving them false hope and then transforms them into pigs. Henry suggests that this illusion of fake hope is common among humans. This false hope the British give dehumanizes the colonists, causing an array of emotions, ranging from anger and sadness, to fears, playing on pathos. ANALYSIS "Are we disposed to be the number of those who having eyes see not, and having ears, hear not, the things which so nearly concern their temporal salvation" (Henry 228). Henry alludes to the Bible verse of Ezekiel 12:2, which says that those who cannot see and cannot hear the truth about God will lose their spiritual salvation. He compares the colonists who are oblivious to the truth about the true intent of the British to those in the Bible who are blind without faith, losing their salvation. Patrick Henry emphasizes the immense military procedures the British are taking, evoking fear in this audience, appealing to pathos. He also builds his own ethos by answering rhetorical questions, which seemingly have no answer. The sentence, "They are meant for us: they can be meant for no other" (Henry 228). has a significant syntactical structure. The parallelism of the sentence repeats the same point, again emphasizing the military preparations by the British. The end of the paragraph is laced with imagery. He compares the build up of armies and navies to "chains" which the British will "bind" and "rivet". The motif of slavery is continued here to create the imagery of imprisonment, also playing on pathos. "I have but one light by which my feet are guided, and that is the lamp of experience" (Henry 228). ANALYSIS By metaphorically comparing experience with a lamp, Henry says that experience will light the way for the future. The phrase Henry uses refers to a Biblical verse which states, "lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path" Referring to Bible scripture builds Henry's ethos because it portrays him as a spiritual person, and discusses his wisdom that stems from his experience. "Is it that insidious smile with which our petition has been lately received" (Henry 228). Henry explains how the colonists' demands have been met with an "insidious smile". The diction creates an appeal to pathos because it implies that the British are misleading. The deceptive nature of the British angers the colonists because they are being fed false hope. Henry uses a Biblical allusion to Judas as he states, "Suffer yourselves no to be betrayed by a kiss" The kiss of Judas, which appears positive, is ultimately what led to Jesus's betrayal and death. In using this metaphor, Henry says that the positive reception of the colonists' petition will fool the colonists into thinking the British care for them, when truly, they will betray the colonists, leading them back into "slavery," a common motif throughout his speech. Henry gives more evidence to continue his appeal to pathos. He does this by explaining and elaborating on the hostile attitude Britain has towards the colonies, and showing the preparations being made for the outburst of a war. "war-like preparations which cover our water and darken our land" (Henry 228). The use of the words "cover" and "darken" create an image of suffocation, death and imprisonment. Henry calls them, ANALYSIS "Trust it not, sir; it will prove a snare to your feet, suffer not yourselves to be betrayed with a kiss" (Henry 228).
The phrase "a snare to your feet" creates an image of a trap, which will ensnare the colonists. The biblical allusion of being "betrayed with a kiss" compares the falsely constructed alliance with Britain to Judas's betrayal of Jesus. Jesus perceived the kiss of Judas as an act of friendship, but ultimately led to his downfall and eventually his death. PARAGRAPH 5 In this paragraph, Henry responds to the opposing argument, giving reasons to refute it. Many other members of the convention want to remain humble and respectful towards Britain and negotiate a treaty. Patrick Henry discredits this approach by saying that all these strategies had been attempted in the past. ANALYSIS To disprove the opposing arguments Henry presents a series of rhetorical questions, and then answers them. This technique appeals to ethos. It makes him appear all knowing and therefore gains him respect. The use of the choppy, abrupt syntax works to leave a lasting impression on the audience. After each rhetorical question, Henry gives the audience time to construct a response mentally, and then automatically refutes it with his abrupt declarative answers, ultimately disproving any counter arguments on the topic. "And what have we to oppose them? Shall we try argument? Sir, we have been trying that for the past ten years. Have we anything new to offer on the subject? Nothing" (Henry 228). PARAGRAPH 6 Analysis Throughout the paragraph, Henry constantly repeats words such as, "we" and "ourselves". The use of these words portray the image that Patrick Henry is on the same side as the audience, and that he identifies with them. In this paragraph, Henry discusses the actions the colonies have taken in the past, explaining that they have exploited every opportunity to mediate the conflict, and preparing for war is the only remaining option. ANALYSIS The paragraph begins with a long compound sentence, listing all of the actions the colonies have taken, ranging from the least significant to most significant. He begins with "petitioned" and ends with "prostrated", creating a climax. The actions become more and more desperate as the sentence progresses. He makes the colonies seem vulnerable, evoking fear and sadness in the audience, creating an appeal to pathos. PARAGRAPH 7 "In vain, after these things, may we indulge the fond hope of peace and reconciliation. There is no longer any room for hope" (Henry 229). Henry once again, mentions the motif of false hope. He explains that considering all the actions that the colonies have taken, there is no room for any other peaceful attempts to mediate conflict. He over emphasizes the situation to appeal to pathos, evoking an array of emotions throughout his audience. After previously listing all the failed solutions, Henry then begins to propose ideas that in his opinion, could solve the conflict with Britain. ANALYSIS Paragraph 7 is composed of one lengthy exclamatory sentence describing potential outcomes, ending in a call to action, "We must fight!" (Henry 230). The tone of the sentence expresses the urgency and need for the fighting. PARAGRAPH 9 Henry begins describing how powerful and great the army of the colonies could be if they attempted. He asks the audience to consider this, and imagine the situation. The whole paragraph focuses on describing them as an army fulfilling the will of God, thus making the cause of the war seem like the obvious decision. ANALYSIS Henry begins Paragraph 8 with the opposing viewpoint that the colonies cannot defend themselves. He says, “But when shall we be stronger?" (Henry 230). He explains that if they wait around to become stronger, only negative outcomes will occur because of it. He creates an appeal to pathos through his description of "a british guard stationed in every house" (Henry 230). This evokes fear in the audience, because this image is something nobody wants to see come true. PARAGRAPH 8 Henry begins paragraph eight by inciting anger inside the colonists, playing on pathos. Henry tells them that others view them as weak. He attempts to call them into action, and to ignite his own ideas within the audience. ANALYSIS In paragraph 8, Patrick Henry discusses how the colonies are seen as a weak power, and in paragraph 9, he refutes this idea. "Lying supinely on our backs, and hugging the delusive phantom of hope, until our enemies shall have bound us hand and foot" (Henry 230). The imagery of this quotation gives the audience the image of lying in a coffin, "hugging the delusive phantom of hope" Henry continues his motif of slavery, emphasizing how easy it would be for the British to enslave the colonies if no action is taken immediately. "Sir, we are not weak, if we make proper use of those means which the God of nature hath placed in our power" (Henry 230). Within this quote, he appeals to authority. He gives God the credit for any good that occurs, thus making himself seem noble, appealing to ethos. "There is no retreat but in submission and slavery! Our chains are forged! Their clanking may be heard on the plains of Boston! The war is inevitable-and let it come! I repeat it, sir, let it come!" (Henry 230). Continuing with the motif of slavery, Henry exclaims how the colonies would essentially become prisoners under the control of the British. He uses the onomatopoeia of the word "clanking" to appeal to pathos and create the horrid images of this situation. By mentioning Boston he demonstrates to the colonists that the conflict is reality, not just an imaginary idea occurring far away. It shows them the prevalence of the situation in regards to the convention. ANALYSIS An appeal to pathos is created by metaphorically comparing the advancement of the British military to a gale, or a gust of wind. Henry emphasizes that just as a storm cannot be stopped by humans, the British cannot be stopped with just human strength. He ties together his main ideas throughout the speech by alluding to the necessity of receiving assistance from God, and working together as a nation to stop this evil. ANALYSIS "But as for me, give me liberty or give me death! (Henry 230). The parallel structure of Henry's final line shows the equivalence of the two subjects, liberty and death. He again states that one or the other will occur, and no compromise is possible. He finishes off his motif of slavery by connecting slavery to death, which will occur if they remain under British rule. THE END! He