Transcript of The Rhetorical Square
Every author has a purpose for writing — ask yourself:
Why did she write this piece?
Of what is she hoping to convince me?
What does she want me to do as a result of reading this piece?
What unstated beliefs is she asking me to accept and why?
How might these unstated beliefs affect me and others?
The author's purpose could be to inform, entertain, persuade, manipulate, enlighten, etc.
Look for clues that reveal the intended audience:
Are all the examples the author uses similar in some way, or are they varied?
Who would be more likely to agree or disagree with the author? Why?
What is the author assuming that his audience will know or accept?
Is he using a specialized kind of language that only certain readers would understand?
Remember that authors sometimes target many different audiences.
Carefully consider the author's message:
What is she trying to say?
Why does she say this subject is important or not important?
How is she suggesting that this subject will affect me?
Why should I be concerned?
What will happen if I do as she suggests?
What will happen if I don't act?
Voice is similar to tone and is shaped by the author's
attitude toward his purpose and the audience he is
targeting. It is how an author says something.
When identifying voice, pay special attention to:
The author's choice of vocabulary (diction)
The types of examples he uses
The way he treats us, his readers
Get the rhetorical square down, and you are well on your way to mastering the art of rhetoric!
"The Box Man"
Barbara Lazear Ascher
The author's purpose is to share an insight with the reader regarding the homeless. By doing so, she attempts to persuade the reader to examine his or her own life and embrace the solo journey that each of us must face at one time or another.
The intended audience is probably those who pass by the homeless and others on the fringe of society without giving them a second thought, or those like Mayor Koch who think such people need a handout or need to be saved. She also targets lonely people like the woman eating soup in the coffee shop or the lady who has six cats and leaves her lights on all night (Ascher 9). Perhaps most importantly though, she is addressing the those who are discontent — those whose lives seem overly complicated, like her own at times. She even says that when her own "life seems complicated and reason slips" (Ascher 9), she longs for the open space and freedom of her childhood literary heros, the Boxcar Children.
The message or main idea of the piece is that when one chooses loneliness or embraces it like the box man, it "loses its sting" (Ascher 10). By doing so, we can achieve a certain peace and contentment and "find solace there and a friend in our own voice" (Ascher 11). According to Ascher, an inner life of the mind allows us to live life on our own terms.
The overriding tone of the piece is one of admiration for those like the box man who have found a contentment in their solitude; after all, the author admits that "one could do worse than be a collector of boxes" (Ascer 11). The piece also conveys a voice of acceptance that ultimately this life is a "solo voyage" (Ascher 10), and to embrace that fact is to find solace in ourselves. There is also a hint of criticism or perhaps sarcasm toward those people who can't see this fact and attempt to help the box man out of his perceived misery.
The author's voice could be sarcastic, critical, humorous, instructive, defiant, etc. Sometimes the author's voice will change through the piece.
The problem is that in a deluge of promising candidates, many remarkable students become indistinguishable from one another, at least on paper. It is incredibly difficult to choose whom to admit. Yet in the chaos of SAT scores, extracurriculars and recommendations, one quality is always irresistible in a candidate: kindness. It’s a trait that would be hard to pinpoint on applications even if colleges asked the right questions. Every so often, though, it can’t help shining through.
The most surprising indication of kindness I’ve ever come across in my admissions career came from a student who went to a large public school in New England. He was clearly bright, as evidenced by his class rank and teachers’ praise. He had a supportive recommendation from his college counselor and an impressive list of extracurriculars. Even with these qualifications, he might not have stood out. But one letter of recommendation caught my eye. It was from a school custodian.
Letters of recommendation are typically superfluous, written by people who the applicant thinks will impress a school. We regularly receive letters from former presidents, celebrities, trustee relatives and Olympic athletes. But they generally fail to provide us with another angle on who the student is, or could be as a member of our community.
This letter was different.
The custodian wrote that he was compelled to support this student’s candidacy because of his thoughtfulness. This young man was the only person in the school who knew the names of every member of the janitorial staff. He turned off lights in empty rooms, consistently thanked the hallway monitor each morning and tidied up after his peers even if nobody was watching. This student, the custodian wrote, had a refreshing respect for every person at the school, regardless of position, popularity or clout.
Over 15 years and 30,000 applications in my admissions career, I had never seen a recommendation from a school custodian. It gave us a window onto a student’s life in the moments when nothing “counted.” That student was admitted by unanimous vote of the admissions committee.
There are so many talented applicants and precious few spots. We know how painful this must be for students. As someone who was rejected by the school where I ended up as a director of admissions, I know firsthand how devastating the words “we regret to inform you” can be.
Until admissions committees figure out a way to effectively recognize the genuine but intangible personal qualities of applicants, we must rely on little things to make the difference. Sometimes an inappropriate email address is more telling than a personal essay. The way a student acts toward his parents on a campus tour can mean as much as a standardized test score. And, as I learned from that custodian, a sincere character evaluation from someone unexpected will mean more to us than any boilerplate recommendation from a former president or famous golfer.
Next year there might be a flood of custodian recommendations thanks to this essay. But if it means students will start paying as much attention to the people who clean their classrooms as they do to their principals and teachers, I’m happy to help start that trend.
Colleges should foster the growth of individuals who show promise not just in leadership and academics, but also in generosity of spirit. Since becoming a mom, I’ve also been looking at applications differently. I can’t help anticipating my son’s own dive into the college admissions frenzy 17 years from now.
Whether or not he even decides to go to college when the time is right, I want him to resemble a person thoughtful enough to return a granola bar, and gracious enough to respect every person in his community.Continue reading the main story