Give Me Liberty, or Give Me Death!

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In 1775, Patrick Henry introduced a proposal to the Virginia Convention to form a local militia to be prepared to fight the British. In order for his proposal to pass and for his vision to become a reality, he had to persuade the members of the Virginia Convention to arm themselves as patriots to fight the British if they did not meet their demands. To do this, he had to appeal to their emotions, logic and many other aspects in order to make his speech effective and to obtain the goal that he wanted.

In his speech, Henry uses both literary and rhetorical devices to make his words effective. Before one is able to see his rhetorical devices, one must first discover his use of literary devices and his word choice and syntax which contribute to the full meaning of his words. Many of his literary devices are what cause many of the rhetorical devices to have their effect. Let us start from the very beginning. Henry begins his speech with the statement that "No man thinks more highly than I do of the patriotism of the very worthy gentlemen who have just addressed the house. But different men often see the same subject differently." Here, Henry is defending his position as a patriot just as those who hold the opposing view call themselves patriots. He is simply saying that patriotism is important, but it can also be inferred that some on the opposing side may believe that only those who are not patriots would fight the British. He shows respect for those "very worthy gentlemen" who hold opposing views to his even though they do not believe the same thing that he does. He introduces his opposing view with the rhetorical shift, "But…" Henry ends his introductory statement with the phrase "different men often see the same subject in different lights." He literally means that men see the same subject in different ways, but he uses the word "light" to introduce the idea that light represents truth and illumination, ideas which he continues to develop in the speech. In doing this, he is aligning his view of the need to fight with God's purpose. His speech continues to the third paragraph when he says, "Mr. President, it is natural to man to indulge in the illusions of hope." He is saying that it is natural that man hopes for freedom without fighting, but with the use of the word "illusions," he is saying that freedom without fighting is only an illusion; it cannot be a reality. He continues on to tell them that they tend to "listen to the song of that siren, till she transforms us into beasts." Through this mythical allusion, he is metaphorically comparing how the British are saying things to the colonists which are promising false hopes to how the sirens in Homer's The Odyssey transformed men into pigs after singing to them. He then continues to explain that "[he has] but one lamp by which [his] feet are guided, and that is the lamp of experience." In metaphorically calling experience a lamp, he is saying that experience will show or "light" the way for the future. There is a Biblical allusion here to the scripture which says that God's word is a "lamp unto thy feet and a light unto thy path." This is a powerful form of persuasion because it shows him as a spiritual person which was very important during this time period. Continuing in paragraph four, Henry also metaphorically calls the British response "a snare to your feet," using the image of a trap which will ensnare them. He again uses Biblical allusion to metaphorically compare the positive reception of the colonists' petition to the kiss which Judas gave to Jesus in his betrayal of him saying, "Suffer yourselves not to be betrayed by a kiss." The kiss of Judas, which appeared to be positive, is, in effect, what ultimately led to Jesus' betrayal and death. In using this metaphor, Henry is saying that the positive reception of the colonists' petition will fool the colonists into thinking that the British will work for their good, but in effect, it will...
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