Wallace Rhetorical Analysis

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A Rhetorical Analysis of “This is Water”

If one were to try to imagine a world without air, then it would certainly be very different than the world as humans know it. Since air is essential to the livelihood of most life on Earth, it could be considered an “important reality.” In David Foster Wallace’s commencement speech, “This is Water” to the 2005 graduating class of Kenyon College, Wallace states that “the most obvious, ubiquitous, important realities are often the ones that are the hardest to see and talk about.” (Wallace) Despite the necessity for air, most take its beautiful existence for granted. Wallace believes unawareness leads to unhappiness, and thus wants his audience to actively think about their surroundings. He supports this claim by providing a short parable as an extended metaphor, establishing his credibility through the Aristotelian appeal of Ethos, and examining stereotypes commonly held in society. This argument is designed to leave Wallace's audience making attempts to view the world with attentive eyes and develop thoughtful minds. Those who heard this speech live were all, in some way, connected to Kenyon College, a small liberal arts school. Besides graduating students, there were numerous parents, professors, and faculty in attendance. The students, heading into the workforce, and many others hearing it, were formally educated, and thus had acquired knowledge leading to a wide variety of viewpoints. Some of them probably thought they had the world figured out. While the intended audience of Wallace’s speech was literally his audience of the graduating class of 2005 at Kenyon College, this piece has become quite popular since its delivery. Perhaps its popularity is due to its relatable aspects. Today, this speech is analyzed in freshman English classes, for example. This is a period in life in which teenagers often come to terms with who they are, and who they would like to be, all while adjusting to their newly found “freedom”...
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