Abigail adams rhetorical analysis: how did you do? What could you have done better? (and surely will on 5-13 ) due the class before our 8/13 ap test Mon. 5/11

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WHAT COULD YOU HAVE DONE BETTER? (and surely will on 5-13 )

DUE the class before our 8/13 AP test - Mon. 5/11 (B) and Tues. 5/12 (A)
Excerpts from Notes from the 2014 AP Readers for this particular prompt:

  • The intent of this question was to provide students with an opportunity to demonstrate their close reading skills (applied to a pre-20th-century text), to discern Abigail Adams’s rhetorical purposes, and to explain how she used written language upon a particular occasion in an effort to accomplish those purposes.

  • The choice of the term “rhetorical strategies” rather than “rhetorical devices” was intended to emphasize the priority of function over form in rhetorical analysis. The prompt was meant to guide students away from “figure hunting” (i.e., identifying metaphors, assonance, synecdoche, etc.) and toward an account of how Adams intended her letter to function as a means of convincing her son to assume the perspective and embark upon the course of action she was urging him to take.

  • Successful analyses demonstrated and clearly articulated a conceptual understanding of rhetorical strategies used in an effort to bring about a particular effect on a particular audience in a particular rhetorical situation.

  • Less successful students sometimes attempted a literary analysis of the passage, focusing on repetitions, metaphors, and allusions without recognizing the rhetorical purposes behind those structures.

  • Some students misread the passage or imposed faulty assumptions on what they read. One fairly common misreading, the view of Abigail Adams as remorseful and apologetic for having sent her son to France, apparently stemmed from a failure to recognize the subjunctive mood of the final sentence in the opening paragraph.

  • Students with a weak grasp of American and European history sometimes stumbled into misreadings, based either on the faulty assumption that John Quincy Adams was himself acting as a diplomat or on the assumption that the “calamities” and “invaded liberties” were occurring in France. The mislabeling of describing John Quincy Adams’ father as a U.S. diplomat may have confused those with a weak grasp of history.

  • Stronger essays usually demonstrated a more holistic understanding of the letter in its entirety. These essays identified at least three strategies and explained their interaction in the service of Abigail Adams’s larger purpose. Some very strong essays, however, were able to develop full, cogent analyses focused on just two of the strategies, but those usually chose two that were representative of the larger range and developed their analyses with particular fullness.

  • Probably the fundamental distinction between stronger and weaker essays was the students’ success or failure in comprehending the double edge of Adams’s overall strategy…. Weaker essays tended to acknowledge only one side of this dual strategy and then exaggerated that side to present Abigail Adams as either the quintessential doting mom or the worst of emasculating harpies. In distorting Abigail Adams’s purpose, tone, and strategies in this way, those essays proved themselves inadequate to the task.

  1. THE LITTLE STUFF: Number the paragraphs of Adams’s letter. (There are 6). Reread each paragraph closely and answer the following questions.

Paragraph #1

  1. Historical Context: 1780 - What’s the primary shake-up going on in America? Do a little historical fact check.

  2. Context: Adams is writing to her son. Where is he?

  3. What kind of conversation can we infer has already occurred between Adams and her son?

  4. AP Graders noted that some students mistakenly read Adams’s tone in this paragraph as apologetic. If you made that error, take note of why. What is Adams’s tone in this opening paragraph? What DIFLS lead you there?

  5. Vocab: Making sure to consider Adams’s specific contextual use, provide your own synonym for the following words: occasion; repent; deliberation; averse

Paragraph #2

  1. AP Graders noted that some students misread the first sentence and believed Adams’s intent was to warn her son not to misbehave while in France. If you made that error, take note of why. Using a strong verb for your set-up, paraphrase this first sentence (lines 9-11) in your own words. Make sure to write in third-person-POV.

  2. Now paraphrase the second sentence (lines 11-15) into simple, everyday language. Make sure to interpret what you believe Adams means by the phrase “you will find your understanding opening…” Again, use a strong verb and write in third-person POV.

Paragraph #3

  1. AP Graders reported that when it came to the river metaphor/analogy that “some students wrote perfectly sound interpretations of what the metaphor meant, yet failed to explain the effect the metaphor might have had on John Quincy Adams, Abigail’s audience and the object of her attempted persuasion.” Write a DEC where you set-up and paraphrase or quote parts of the river metaphor and then knock that commentary out of the park. Really think about and explain why Adams includes this comparison. What effect is she hoping it might have on her son and how does it fit into her persuasive purpose?

  • *If you wrote about this detail in your rhetorical analysis, rewrite this part and improve it. Does your elaboration set up the detail for a reader? Does your commentary go deep into the how and why?

  1. Paraphrase lines 21-24 into simple everyday language. Set it up with strong verbs and use third-person POV.

  2. Lines 24-26. Where does Adams use absolutes? How does specific diction create her tone? What is the purpose or effect of that tone?

Paragraph #4

  1. Vocabulary/Historical Terminology: What does Adams mean by “the repose of a pacific station”?

  2. What is the controlling idea of this paragraph?

  3. From an organization standpoint, what is the relationship between lines 28-34 (It is not…with difficulties)

  4. Vocabulary: What does she mean by “penetration”?

  5. Vocab: What are synonyms for Adams’s use of “scourges” and “deprecated” and “lot”?

  6. From a historical perspective, what is Adams referring to in lines 43-49?

  7. How does Adams employ juxtaposition (in numerous examples) in this paragraph and for what purpose?

Paragraph #5

  1. Tricky Old Timey Vocab/Syntax: In today’s language, how would we write Adams’s introductory clause “Nor ought it to be one of the least of your incitements towards exerting every power and faculty of your mind…”?

  2. When Adams refers to “this contest,” what is she describing?

Paragraph #6

  1. Vocab: What are synonyms for Adams’s use of “inviolable” and “dictates” and “render”?

  2. What compliment does Adams offer her son and why?


  1. Where is the primary shift in Adams’s tone (and purpose)? What DIFLS signal this shift in attitude?

  2. The AP Graders noted that many students missed the “double edge of Adams’s overall strategy.” She is trying to convince him of _________________ but also ___________________. She appeals to his sense of ___________________ but also to his sense of ______________________. What are the two sides of her strategy and purpose?


Open the PDF document on my website and read the two student essays, the first of which is a 9 (and is disgustingly good), the second an 8 (and is perfectly decent).

  • For both of these student essays, copy what you believe to be the best commentary sentences that tie one of Adams’s rhetorical strategies to her overall purpose.


Read back over your own essay, and complete the following self-evaluation:

  1. What’s something specific in your essay that you did well? *You can’t answer “nothing.”

  2. Overall, what in your essay could be improved? List at least six specific elements that, after working through the re-read questions and looking over the sample essays, you would need to revise…if we were revising this essay. Show me that you scrutinized your first draft and be very specific. Attempt to identify the element AND diagnose the source of the problem, keeping in mind that the source of the problem might’ve been a misreading of Adams’s letter and not simply problem with your written expression. (I’m not interested in editing errors—missing commas, spelling, etc. Revising is the big stuff.)

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