Rhetorical Analysis Civil Disobedience

Henry David Thoreau wrote “Civil Disobedience”, in 1849, to explain his distrust for the government. He focuses greatly on how the government is actively working against the people. Thoreau also discusses all throughout his essay about how the ones who serve our country are not considered as important as the ones within the cabinet. In an excerpt from “Civil Disobedience”, Thoreau uses pathos to show how the government is corrupt by using strategic syntax, similes, and metaphors.

In “Civil Disobedience”, Thoreau skillfully uses syntax by hiding some facts within sentences, but making the statements based on his opinion. In the excerpt from “Civil Disobedience” he states that “Others- as most legislators, politicians, lawyers, ministers, and office-holders- serve the state chiefly with their heads; and, as they rarely make any moral distinctions, they are as likely to serve the devil, without intending it, as God.” It is fact that most officials in the government don’t make any moral variation, but he exaggerates when he says that they are serving the devil. He also cleverly separates himself from both the government and the ones he claims are the victims, through the use of the words “they” and “them.”

Similes and metaphors are a major part of Thoreau’s writing. In the excerpt from “Civil Disobedience” he describes the men who serve the state as machines, but the government views them as nothing more than lowly laborers. Using similes and metaphors helps Thoreau to vividly show how low the government views are of those who actually fully serve their country. As Thoreau states “they receive no more respect than men of straw or a lump of dirt.”

Thoreau greatly plays on the audiences’ emotions by showing how disrespected the standing army is by the government. “ He who gives himself entirely to his fellow-men appears to them useless and selfish; but he who gives himself partially to them is pronounced a benefactor and philanthropist.” He wants to pull the audience in by making them feel guilty about how the political people treat and view the rest of the American people. “ I am too highborn to be propertied, to be a secondary at control, or useful serving-man and instrument to any sovereign state throughout the world”. This was a quote Thoreau used written by Shakespeare to show a better view on how the people such as politicians, lawyers, and legislators view themselves so highly while those who serve the state are commonly treated as enemies by the government.

Through his literary devices and pathos appeal, Thoreau is able to prove his point on how the government is corrupt. Throughout the excerpt and also the entire essay, he is able to play on one emotion after the other making one feel anger and astonishment towards the government, but also sympathy and respect for those who oppose the government. “Civil Disobedience” respectively shows the American people that the government is weak and abusive of their powers, and how it should be left in the hands of the people instead.

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