Rhetorical Analysis Project



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Johnisha Garner

Dr. Lopez

English 3080

9 September 2009



Rhetorical Analysis Project

For my rhetorical analysis paper I chose to analyze a debate from the movie “The Great Debaters”, which is based on a true story. Within the movie, the debate takes place during the period of the Great Depression at Harvard University, which is one of the most prestigious colleges in the nation. The film explores the struggle of African Americans during the 1930’s, within the debate. The Harvard debater’s argue against a historically African American school, known as Wiley College. Within the debate both teams argue on the topic whether “Civil Disobedience is a Moral Weapon in the Fight for Justice”. I chose to analyze the debaters from Wiley College, Samantha Book, and James Farmer, Jr. who will argue the “Resolved: Civil Disobedience is a Moral Weapon in the Fight for Justice”.

While arguing the “Resolved: Civil Disobedience is a Moral Weapon in the Fight for Justice” in the dispute against Harvard University, James Farmer Jr. and Samantha Booke argue the affirmative. James Farmer Jr., who is an African American male from Wiley College, seeks out his audience within his first statement of the debate. His widespread audience ranges from whites to coloreds, and from judges who are within the auditorium, to radio listeners within their households. In his first argument, he simply begins by restating the issue at hand, and later questioning the issue by stating, “But how can disobedience ever be moral?” In response to his question he poses an example from an event that caused hundreds of deaths, which occurred in India during 1919. He uses this example as well as the statistic of the deaths that occurred to draw the audience in using an emotional appeal. He uses the words “shot down in cold blood” to describe the three hundred seventy-nine deaths of men, women, and children. James Farmer Jr. uses the term “shot down in cold blood” to provide an emotional appeal for the audience. His choice of words are also provides a mere reality for the audience to visual. He compares the incident which occurred in India to the experience of a well known prominent figure known as Mahatma Gandhi, who was an exemplifier of non violent civil disobedience. He uses the two experiences from the past to allow the audience to distinguish the differences of people definition of moral. He then provides the definition of moral in the views of two well known figures; first Dyer’s definition of moral, which caused hundreds of deaths to be known as a mere statement of a “lesson”, then Gandhi’s definition of moral as a victory. James Farmer Jr. uses these two words to describe these occurrences to reach out to his wide range of audience. He is far too familiar with the knowledge of opinions that some of his audience members posses, so he takes the issue of death; something everyone can relate to, in response to appeal to his audience, whether white or black.

Samantha Booke, who is an African American woman speaking against the debaters of Harvard University, begins her rebuttal by stating the beliefs of Gandhi, who was a very influential political and spiritual leader in India. She states, “Gandhi believes one must always act with love and respect for one’s opponents”, to precede her next statement, “even if they are Harvard debaters”. Booke uses this statement of humor to mellow the tone of her rebuttal. The tone of the debate succeeds from a more serious one, to that of a more pleasant tone. She continues her rebuttal by eluding that civil disobedience is an American concept. And, once again she quotes Gandhi, who is an authoritive figure. She states that Gandhi drew his concepts from Henry David Thoreau. She uses Henry David Thoreau, who was a Harvard graduate to somewhat color her thesis by using an emanate scholar of her components background to influence the audience’s perceptions. Samantha argues another rebuttal in response to her opponent’s argument. She enforces her firm statement on the opposition, by stating that, “Majorities do not decide what is right or wrong, you conscience does.” After this statement, she proposes questions for the audience to ponder on. Her tone of voice changes drastically to represent the serious nature of the argument. She is no longer speaking with a humorous tongue, but she now speaks with fire and desire.

James Farmer Jr., who is the last to speak during the debate, begins his rebuttal to his opponent’s argument with the mere statement, “In Texas, they lynch Negroes”. Farmer uses this statement as a strong premise that will later be used to reach his conclusion. He tells of his own personal experience he had with his teammates, while driving through a lynch mob. He tells of the emotions that occurred while he and his teammate had their faces pressed on the floorboards. Farmer expresses an emotion that is present in everyone’s life, an emotion of “fear”. Napoleon Bonaparte states, “There are two levers for moving men- interest and fear”, which is apparent within Farmers rebuttal. Farmer uses the lynch mob to stir anger and fear within each and every audience member watching and listening. He uses this strong appeal to reach the emotions of everyone, allowing them to feel his agony. Once he tells of the lynching that he experienced, he raises many questions for the audience to consider. Some of the questions that I felt were most prevalent where, “What was this negro’s crime that he should be hung, without trial in a dark forest filled with fog? Was he a preacher? Were his children waiting up for him?” These are all questions in which his audience no matter what race they were could relate to. He then begins to end her rebuttal by restating his opponents argument that, “Nothing that erodes the rule of law can be moral”. Then he gives his own counterargument, that “there is no law in the Jim Crow South, not when Negroes are denied housing, turned away from schools, hospitals—and not when we are lynched”. Farmer ends his counterargument with this powerful statement that is used to reach out to his audience.

Although his piece was not aimed towards a specific audience, but multiple audiences, Farmer and Booke spoke in a well toned manner that would allow them to reach people worldwide, whether the audience is hostile to African Americans, or whether they were African Americans. Throughout the debate Farmer and Booke are able to provide clear and concise thesis’s within their argument, by assuring the audience with organized, and convincing arguments. They were able to differentiate between their facts versus their opinions. Booke, as well as Farmer changed tones throughout the debate to effectively drive their points.



Within the debate of the Harvard debaters versus the debaters of Wiley College, the debaters of Wiley College use many rhetorical techniques to win the dispute of whether, “Civil Disobedience is a Moral Weapon in the Fight for Justice”. Samantha Booke and James Farmer Jr. use ethos, and pathos to appeal to their audience. They also use other technique to convey their trustworthiness. They provide evidence, and use prominent American figures as authoritive testimonies to provide valid and truthful arguments within the debate. And in his closing statement James Farmer Jr. uses sufficient and necessary conditions to convey his main thesis.


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