Rhetorical Devices in Walden

Rhetorical Devices Examples in Walden:

Economy 8

""But," says one, "you do not mean that the students should go to work with their hands instead of their heads?"..."   (Economy)

Thoreau acknowledges that readers may take issue with what he is saying, so he employs a rhetorical device here to raise a question concerning his point. This strategy helps make him a more credible writer by demonstrating that he is aware of potential counterarguments to his thesis and willing to address them.

"Who knows but if men constructed their dwellings with their own hands, and provided food for themselves and families simply and honestly enough, the poetic faculty would be universally developed, as birds universally sing when they are so engaged?..."   (Economy)

Thoreau proposes this rhetorical question to further develop his claims regarding self-reliance. He suggests that if we built our own houses, we would not distinguish between work and leisure and enjoy this labor as a kind of spiritual richness. If we are self-reliant, Thoreau claims, we will be able to experience beauty of this kind.

"But to make haste to my own experiment..."   (Economy)

At this point in his account, Thoreau transitions from outlining his philosophical foundations for his experiment and begins to relate the specific details surrounding the process of carrying out his experiment. Establishing his theoretical background served as an ethos appeal to his readers by setting himself up as a credible and experienced writer and thinker.

"I am far from jesting..."   (Economy)

This statement serves as a rhetorical device to anticipate any kind of reaction from his readers by asserting that his ideas are, in fact, serious. This admission that readers might consider him joking strengthens his case because he has positioned himself as a writer in the shoes of his readers. He can call attention to a potentially laughable section and then address it candidly rather than ignoring it and opening it up to criticism.

"By the words, necessary of life, I mean..."   (Economy)

Defining words and phrases and their particular usage in the context of an essay is an essential element of exposition. Here, Thoreau defines exactly what he means by "necessary of life" so that his audience will not be confused by any other ideas or meanings that they may have regarding the phrase. In doing this, Thoreau better prepares his audience for his essay.

"always promising to pay, promising to pay, tomorrow, and dying today, insolvent..."   (Economy)

Thoreau describes the situation of the indebted as a never-ending cycle in which aes alienum, another's brass, or money, acts as a figurative weight or pressure on the indebted. This pressure is applied and amplified until the indebted is crushed under the weight of the debt. The repetition of "promising to pay, promising to pay" helps to demonstrate the futile cycle that many suffer from until they eventually die in debt. The overall effect creates a tone of hopeless despair that Thoreau uses to prepare his readers to hear his suggestions on how to better their situations.

"Some of you, we all know, are poor, find it hard to live, are sometimes, as it were, gasping for breath..."   (Economy)

Thoreau makes a shift in this passage to speak directly to his readers, invoking the use of the word "you" in order to appeal to their struggles and strife. Such an appeal to readers' emotions is known as a pathos appeal, and it helps authors establish a relationship with their audience on an emotional level in order to make their claims more receptive.

"The twelve labors of Hercules..."   (Economy)

The ancient Greek hero Hercules was tasked with twelve labors that were thought to be impossible to accomplish. Thoreau makes this metaphorical comparison to emphasize the seriousness of the struggles he sees his neighbors enduring in order to build up the case, and the need, for his claims about transcendentalism and self-reliance.

"An honest man has hardly need to count more than his ten fingers, or in extreme cases he may add his ten toes, and lump the rest..."   (Where I Lived, and What I Lived For)

Thoreau is exaggerating many of these points and shouldn't be taken seriously regarding avoiding the necessity for counting. He is being hyperbolic to emphasize how strongly he rejects an ant-like existence that focuses on acquiring property and performing rote actions. Thoreau wants us to pay less attention to trivial things so that we can concentrate on the meaningful things in life.

"What should we think of the shepherd's life if his flocks always wandered to higher pastures than his thoughts?..."   (Where I Lived, and What I Lived For)

Throughout Walden, Thoreau often asks rhetorical questions like this one. While few would ask such questions, Thoreau's use of them helps set up his points or prepare readers for the next stage of his argument.

"As I have said, I do not propose to write an ode to dejection, but to brag as lustily as chanticleer in the morning, standing on his roost, if only to wake my neighbors up..."   (Where I Lived, and What I Lived For)

Walden is prefaced with the line that follows this selection. Thoreau stands true to this sentiment, expressing his desire to "wake" himself in this chapter. Additionally, this sentence serves a rhetorical purpose by detailing his purpose for writing the book.

"Cato..."   (Where I Lived, and What I Lived For)

Thoreau again refers to Marcus Porcius Cato (234–149 BCE), the Roman general and author of many agricultural texts. Notice how he uses Cato as an authority on land and agriculture by bringing in a quote from De Re Rusticaand then building on it with his own ideas. This strategy helps demonstrate Thoreau's thorough knowledge of the topic while simultaneously showing his own thoughts alongside those of renown.