Rhetorical Analysis of Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience”

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AP Language
Rhetorical Analysis of Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience”

Directions: Read “Civil Disobedience.” As you read, underline examples of Thoreau using rhetorical devices and identify and explain the devices via annotation. Answer questions 1-4 to prepare for further work with a small group. The group will work together on questions 5 through 8. Be ready to explain your answers to the whole class. Even when you’re working as a group you should be writing the answers.

1. Based on your reading of “Civil Disobedience,” what kind of person does Henry David Thoreau seem to be? How would you characterize his state of mind and emotion as he composed this essay? Cite specific examples from the text to support your claims about Thoreau’s voice and persona.

Voice = textual features such as diction and syntax, that contribute to a writer’s persona Syntax and tone are formal, academic, eloquent. Sentences tend to be longer, complex sentences punctuated with frequent commas and semicolons (to indicate pauses) which lends the pacing of a speech, almost as if even though we’re reading a written word, it’s Thoreau himself speaking to us, lecturing even. Also, parallelism (more precisely in the following example, anaphora): Yet this government never of itself furthered any enterprise, but by the alacrity with which it got out of its way. It does not keep the country free. It does not settle the West. It does not educate. The character inherent in the American people has done all that has been accomplished. (paragraph 2) (The last “It does not…” with the “The…American people has done” is antithesis) Diction is academic and intelligent, supporting the same tone mentioned above (“alacrity” is a lesser-known word for “speed”). Repeated use of the “machine” metaphor when referring to the government and politicians/lawyers who work for it. Sets up an “Us” (free-minded, free-thinking citizens who rebel against slavery) versus “Them” (the government machine and

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