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“On natural death” By Lewis Thomas Essay

From the moment all life forms are born, a journey is begun to the mysterious quarters of the unknown and the unexplained. It is a journey to the one place all beings are not sure of and fear the most. Whether or not it comes from old age, death is a part of the natural cycle of life. In the essay “On Natural Death” by Lewis Thomas, death is the spectacle of human and animal existence. He explores the world of death using rhetorical writing style to effectively support his idea of death. By using parallel sentences and persuasive techniques such as logos, pathos, and ethos, Thomas is able to alter the perception of the creeping demon into an exotic experience.

Thomas’ use of parallel sentences creates his mood about death and why it is Nature’s job to help us through it. He points out in his essay that reading books on death causes a person to wonder how they will react when they encounter death. He seeks to assure the reader by saying that “if you know not how to die, never trouble yourself; Nature will in a moment…instruct you; she will …do the business for you…” (275). The idea of the unknown creeps in the back of human thought because people are not sure how they will handle it; ergo they read books to prepare them for the unexpected arrival of death. With the use of parallel sentence structure, he emphasizes to the reader that they will be taken care of if they are faced with the grim situation by repeating the word “you”. This technique and word usage engraves the concept of death in the mind and makes the audience follow through the sentence confident that Nature will be there to assist them in the process.

The road to death is a dreaded destination man and animal wish not to face alone. Through Thomas’ elucidation, nature is the mother that guides the individual and makes the journey a peaceful one. He creates his effective essay by using persuasive techniques such as pathos. Thomas illustrates that nature takes away the pain that accompanies death by telling a story of a “field mouse, at the jaws of an amiable household cat…with pain beyond bearing…all over his small body” (273). The mouse, at the gates of death, gets a shot of adrenaline, which dampened the mouse’s feeling of pain while¬†he is dying in the cat’s orifice. Nature has created a security blanket that covers up the excruciating pain that causes death to be an unpleasant experience. He builds emotion by walking the reader through the mouse’s painful encounter with the house cat and his experience of death. He makes the audience feel the intensifying pain covering every particle of the mouse’s body until he dies.

The mouse’s experience can be explained through reason and scientific analysis. Lewis brings out another persuasive technique, logos, to prove his point of the dying field mouse. He starts by stating that at the instant the mouse is trapped between the cat’s teeth, “peptide hormones are released by cells in the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland…” to cause no pain to the dying mouse. (274). Thomas’ use of logos brings the reader up to speed on the scientific definition of death and pain. It explains how the body reacts when faced with death and uncertainty. The author’s explanation of the bodily defense mechanism creates logic and reason for the phenomenon that occurs.

Whether or not death is defined scientifically or spiritually, death is the ultimate test of the endurance of one’s character when faced with the decision to fight or flee. Thomas’ excellent use of ethos in his essay best illustrates the endurance of one’s character. He extracts a part of another essay by Montaigne to show how death can be an experience that causes a person to rethink life. Montaigne, during a riding accident, was caused to rethink the natural process of death and how it felt to come close to it. Thomas quoted Montaigne to illustrate that “in order to get used to the idea of death…there is nothing like coming close to it” (274). By using Montaigne’s near death experience, Thomas is able to achieve ethos. Thomas wanted to exemplify to the audience that death is an experience that is more then the end of a life, but the reevaluation of one’s current existence.

With the current thoughts and experiments of death, Thomas has successfully instructed the reader toward his direction of thought. By using persuasive language and rhetorical writing style, he made his essay a convincing argument that death is a natural and exotic experience everyone is eventually faced with. The persuasive style of writing like parallel sentences, logos, ethos, and pathos draws the reader into the essay and makes him understand the idea of death. The reader gets the impression that natural death becomes an extraordinary and exhilarating experience all beings are destined to face.


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