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Native Son: analysis of rhetorical strategies Essay

Max concludes his argument for Bigger’s life with a speech in a final attempt to persuade people to see the greater good in letting him live. His purpose is to convince that public as well as the judge that Bigger’s violent nature is spawned from the oppressive society that keeps him and other African Americans in constant fear and poverty. He achieves success in articulating his points by employing various rhetorical strategies: similes, cause and effect, and comparison.

The speech is punctuated with similes. He uses them to relate Bigger and society to other parts of life. “The complex forces of society have isolated here for us a symbol, a test symbol. The prejudices of men have stained this symbol, like a germ stained for examination under the microscope.” This simile shows how the white public looks down upon the African American population as a “germ” or plague of society, under constant interrogation and examination. Max extends this simile by relating society to a “sick social organism”.

He describes the “new form of life”, the African American oppressed as “like a weed growing from under a stone”, which expresses the immense burden of the white public. Max also illustrates the African American lifestyle as “gliding through our complex civilization like wailing ghosts; they spin like fiery planets lost from their orbits; they wither and die like trees ripped from native soil.” This shows the aura of distress and hardship of the African Americans.

Max tries to explain that Bigger is the product of a racially oppressive society in which all African Americans must live by using the strategy of cause and effect. “What Bigger did… was but a tiny aspect of what he had been doing all his life long! He was living, only as he knew how, and as we have forced him to live.” He describes Bigger’s offenses as results of their own actions. In reference to the hardships that the white society consciously forces upon the African American population, Max states: “We know this evidence for we helped create it.” After stating all the oppressive and dominative actions taken upon the African American society, he speaks of the murders as being obvious end products, which should have been expected. “We planned the murder or Mary Dalton.”

In order for Max to eliminate the obvious racial bias that was present in the minds of the public, he employs comparison. He highlights the fact that because he is black, his crimes are completely indefensible and horrible. Max dismisses Bigger’s villainous persona by comparing him to the freedom-fighting patriots that founded America. “These twelve million Negroes, conditioned broadly by our own notions as we were by European ones when we first came here, are struggling within unbelievably narrow limits to achieve that feeling of at-home-ness for which we once strove so ardently.”

Max’s speech combines the rhetorical strategies of similes, cause and effect, and comparison to convey his views on racial maltreatment and persecution. He effectively illustrates the very parts of society that caused Bigger’s actions, and makes an notably moving case for Bigger’s life.

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