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Ethos in The Fallacy of Success

Ethos Examples in The Fallacy of Success:

G. K. Chesterton's "The Fallacy of Success"

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"It was his barber (if I remember right)..."   (G. K. Chesterton's "The Fallacy of Success")

This is not the first time Chesterton has employed first-person narration in this essay, but this parenthetical marks the beginning of his longest stretch in that mode. The aside establishes a new, more conversational tone for the piece, and shows that Chesterton is willing to call his own assertions into question. By noting that his memory on this point of the Midas story could be faulty, Chesterton humanizes himself, implying that he is open to correction, making his arguments more approachable to skeptical readers. That he is, in fact, correct about the barber upholds his general authority as an informed speaker.

"For when we really worship anything, we love not only its clearness but its obscurity. We exult in its very invisibility...."   (G. K. Chesterton's "The Fallacy of Success")

This appeal includes a very subtle use of ethos. By adding a “we” to the statements he makes about human nature, Chesterton is including himself in the group he describes and placing himself as a spokesman for the entirety of humanity. His self-inclusion softens the blow of what could read as a harsh indictment of impractical behavior.

"it would be something like this:..."   (G. K. Chesterton's "The Fallacy of Success")

By paraphrasing the style of the books he derides, Chesterton hopes to demonstrate that he has, in fact, read them. It would be easy for him to mock these works without any firsthand knowledge of them, but his familiarity with their style and contents gives him authority as an informed speaker and weights his arguments with ethos, the appeal to that authority.

"I wish to quote the following exquisite paragraphs..."   (G. K. Chesterton's "The Fallacy of Success")

By directly quoting a passage from one of the works he critiques, Chesterton appeals to both ethos and logos. He makes himself seem more credible by presenting his audience with evidence and he makes his argument seem more rational by critiquing his subject at the level of language. Referring to the quoted paragraphs as “exquisite” is a blatant use of irony; it is clear that Chesterton finds the prose of the “Success” writers unsuccessful, let alone exquisite.

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