A Personal Encounter at the Hands of Indifference Nobel Peace Prize winner, renowned scholar, and author of over fifty books, Elie Wiesel is a name with worldwide recognition. In addition to his literary and scholarly accomplishments, Wiesel is also recognized as an eminent champion and defender of human rights for both the work he has done in the field, as well as his own status as a Holocaust survivor (“Elie Wiesel”). Wiesel believes indifference, or the lack of sympathy towards others, as being the devastating culprit in dividing humanity.
In this rhetorical analysis of Wiesel’s speech “The Perils of Indifference” I will explain how Wiesel uses the concepts of ethos, logos, pathos, and other rhetorical devices to make this a powerful and timeless speech in hopes to eliminate indifference in the next millennium to come. Elie Wiesel delivered his speech, The Perils of Indifference, on April 22, 1999, at the White House as a part of the Millennium Lecture Series, hosted by President and First Lady Clinton.
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In his speech, Wiesel expounds on the meanings and repercussions of human indifference. He uses his own personal story as a holocaust survivor to expose this.
The purpose of this speech is to encourage people everywhere to abandon indifference in the face of crisis, now and forever. Wiesel seeks to accomplish this goal by expressing his own, distinct definition of indifference as being “more dangerous than anger and hatred… not only a sin, it is a punishment. ” He constructs his definition around some of the most tragic results of indifference over the past century, including his own as a Holocaust survivor, by sharing his experience as a Nazi internment camp prisoner, and the ways it has affected his life. Ethos is a tool of rhetoric used to help give a piece of literature it’s credibility.
Experience can be a major part in determining ethos, which is exactly how Wiesel accomplished his own credibility in this speech. It was 1944, when 15 year-old Wiesel, his parents, three sisters, and all the other Jews in his small hometown were rounded up and transported like livestock, to Auschwitz, a death camp (Schleier, 68). Wiesel draws upon his experience in the Holocaust as a central reference point to the case he is making against indifference. By doing this, he justifies his credibility as a speaker. In Wiesel’s speech, he addresses the United States’ current relationship in Kosovo.
Kosovo had been involved in a civil war for ten years prior to this speech (Eun-Kyung). He uses he expertise, another ethos technique, to thank President Clinton for taking action to aide Kosovo, ultimately eliminating indifference towards Kosovo’s need for help. Wiesel acknowledges Clinton’s action by saying, “But this time, the world was not silent. This time, we do respond. This time, we intervene. ” Logos is the cause-and-effect or reasoning found in a piece of literature. Logos helps in the anchorage of a text in order to validate and confirm the point an author is trying to make.
Wiesel gives examples of his firsthand observations that he encountered at the concentration camps. He and his father were both immediately put to work as slave labor for a nearby factory. Wiesel? s daily life was characterized by starvation, vicious discipline, and the battle against overwhelming despair. The MS St. Louis was vessel carrying almost a thousand Jewish people from Germany to the U. S. in order to escape the horror story most of their lives had turned into. Wiesel talks about indifference here in his speech when he says, “The depressing tale of the St. Louis is a case in point.
Sixty years ago, its human cargo — nearly 1,000 Jews — was turned back to Nazi Germany. ” When the vessel had reached U. S. soil, Franklin D. Roosevelt sent the ship back to Germany, exemplifying indifference taking place. Wiesel addresses the hope he had that the U. S. was unaware of the conditions that Wiesel, his family, and thousands of other Jewish people were living in. However, Wiesel later found out that the U. S. knew about what Nazi Germany was doing and still remained to do business with Germany until 1942, which harshly confirms how indifference, once again, reigned over compassion towards others.
Wiesel says with sadness, “And now we knew, we learned, we discovered that the Pentagon knew, the State Department knew. ” When Wiesel addresses the lack of Roosevelt’s compassion and his bouts of indifference in the Holocaust, you see how disappointed, confused, and how hurt Wiesel felt: “Roosevelt was a good man, with a heart. He understood those who needed help. Why didn’t he allow these refugees to disembark? A thousand people — in America, the great country, the greatest democracy, the most generous of all new nations in modern history. What happened? I don’t understand.
Why the indifference, on the highest level, to the suffering of the victims? ” The emotion that shines through in this passage shows pathos, or the emotion, which influences a text. In another part of his speech, Wiesel says: “If they knew, we thought, surely those leaders would have moved heaven and earth to intervene. They would have spoken out with great outrage and conviction. They would have bombed the railways leading to Birkenau, just the railways, just once. ” This shows how disappointed Wiesel was that other people were allowing these types of situations to occur without trying to intervene or help.
This exhibits Wiesel’s belief that indifference achieves nothing but disappointment among others. Wiesel tries to instill fear and guilt in the audience when he talks about the future of our children. He questions here how we can let indifference shape the lives of innocent children by saying: “What about the children? Oh, we see them on television, we read about them in the papers, and we do so with a broken heart. Their fate is always the most tragic, inevitably. When adults wage war, children perish. We see their faces, their eyes. Do we hear their pleas?
Do we feel their pain, their agony? Every minute one of them dies of disease, violence, famine. ” By ending his speech with a statement that is emotionally related to so many different people, it leaves an inevitable impression on the audience. His speech offers a unique perspective of the ramifications of indifference, which is accented by the calm yet stern tone of voice, coupled with a discomforted feeling about the future. The tone of Wiesel’s voice helps highlight other rhetorical devices used throughout his speech. When Wiesel delivered his speech, he wasn’t preaching or yelling.
It was almost as if he was telling a story, which made the speech more compelling to the audience. He starts off the speech with a statement that is similar to what you read if you were opening a storybook. Wiesel begins by saying, “Fifty-four years ago to the day, a young Jewish boy from a small town in the Carpathian Mountains woke up, not far from Goethe’s beloved Weimar, in a place of eternal infamy called Buchenwald. ” He narrates this story, but also serves as the main character. By doing this, Wiesel makes his speech more persuasive because he shares his own experience from the suffering of indifference.
Wiesel used repetition in his speech in order to exaggerate the power that indifference has. “Indifference elicits no response. Indifference is not a response. Indifference is not a beginning; it is an end. ” This technique helps reiterate the point he is trying to make by overly defining what indifference means. By using ethos, logos, pathos and other rhetorical devices, I have been able to show how Wiesel has effectively demonstrated the havoc indifference has caused the human race in our history, yet is still present today.
As a longtime fan of his writing, his name instantly caught my eye when searching for a speech to analyze, which is why I chose to analyze “The Perils of Indifference”. Using Wiesel’s speech as my foundation, I hope this paper helps acknowledge why diminishing indifference is detrimental for the present, but most importantly, our future. By bringing all of these theories together in this analysis, I feel as though I have been able to thoroughly support my main contention in this speech that Elie Wiesel? s message is timeless and is told timelessly, in efforts to stand up and fight against indifference.
While it may just be one group of people experiencing injustice at the hands of indifference at different points in time, it will always be out there as a threat to all of us until it is forever a thing of the past. Works Cited “Elie Wiesel. ” Elie Wiesel Foundation. The Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity. Web Eun-Kyung, Kim. “‘This time [Kosovo] the world was not silent,’ notes Wiesel. Jerusalem Post, The (Israel). 14 Apr. 1999. NewsBank – Archives. Web. Schleier, Curt. “Why Elie Wiesel Can Never Forget. ” Biography Magazine, September (1999): 68. Academic Search Premier. Web.