Late Victorians Close Reading

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Richard Rodriguez wrote the essay Late Victorians to inform readers of the complexities and tragedy in the San Franciscan gay community, while exploring his own place in it. He is most personal and appealing to the reader’s pathos when he describes the death from AIDS of his friend Cesar, near the end of the essay. In order to make the reader empathize more readily, he first spends a paragraph making Cesar relatable. Rodriguez begins with straight-forward sentence structure (in paragraph 95), writing: “Cesar had an excellent mind.” He is simply stating a thesis, thereby setting up the reader for supporting evidence. In doing this, Rodriguez is appealing to the Logos. He then elaborates, using vivid metaphor to effectively convey Cesar’s analytical savvy. Having convinced the reader of Cesar’s hard intellect, Rodriguez moves on to his softer qualities. Once again he makes a claim using simple syntax: “Cesar was … ruled by pulp.” Once again he embellishes with fascinating detail: “Cesar loved everything that ripened in time.” But instead of using a metaphor, Rodriguez gives an anecdote to illustrate Cesar’s quirky, fastidious nature. Having patiently built up sympathy for this character, Rodriguez utilizes the connection to create as large an emotional impact as possible: “If he’s lucky, he’s got a year, the doctor told me. If not, he’s got two.” Although the until the final sentence this paragraph has a fairly upbeat mood, the author uses two techniques to foreshadow the eventual tragic conclusion. First, he describes all of Cesar’s traits in the perfect tense. This effectively plants trepidation in the reader’s mind. Another, more subtle foreshadowing technique was the use of allusion. Rodriguez at one point parenthetically describes an overcooked artichoke as “Yorick’s skull.” This refers to the famous scene in Hamlet, in which the prince soliloquizes over his dead court jester, while holding the man’s exhumed skull. That monologue in hamlet evokes a possible...
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