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Obey or disobey is the question Henry David Thoreau may have asked himself. For some Americans, they may ask themselves the same question because they do not agree with how controlling our government is or how they run our country. In his essay “Civil Disobedience” Henry David Thoreau strive to share his views on how a government should be conducted and outline the issues with our current government and their lack of respect for the individuals. Thoreau makes his stance quite clear throughout the essay, he talks about the unjust laws that exist and that men should not be content with just obeying them.
Thoreau being the stubborn man he is, decided to move out to a cabin alone away from society and their control because he did not want to pay his taxes. Henry David Thoreau does an amazing job of incorporating the rhetorical triangle within his writing to effectively present his points over the government’s behavior.
“Civil Disobedience” not only lays a strong argument for paying taxes but gives a clear image of Thoreau himself.
The use of ethos is rather important techniques to appeal to one’s credibility, it is rather important to appeal to readers over something serious as this. The authors want the readers to trust what they are saying, usually, authors would use research to develop their credibility. In Thoreau’s case, he established his credibly through his experience in society and with the American government. Thoreau utilizes ethos throughout his essay, in attempts to show readers that they have the rights to stand up for what they believe and that they should stand up.
Thoreau states “I meet this American government, or its representative, the State government, directly, and face to face, once a year – no more in the person of its tax gather” (Thoreau 7). He seems to be calling out the government for the fact that the only times they are seen is when it tax collection time. Thoreau continues with, “I have paid no poll-tax for six years. I was put into a jail once on this account, for one night” (Thoreau 10). Throughout the essay, Henry goes on to explain his experiences and allows the readers to understand that he has seen the front line of civil disobedience.
Another appeal Henry Thoreau uses is logos, it is seen many times throughout this work due to logos appealing to logic. This is crucial in written works because it helps the audience gain a better understanding of the author’s viewpoint. Reading through his essay, he appears to use logos abundantly to persuade readers. In the writing, there is a comparison of the United States government to a machine entirely throughout the reading. Thoreau states “The mass of men, serve the state thus, not as men mainly, but as machines, with their bodies.” (Thoreau 2). He seems to be backing up his original statement by saying the United States military is just a bunch of trained machines and using their bodies to protect the state. Although it also backs the claim of how the government does not respect the rights of individuals, nor respect these men’s sacrifices to their nation. He also refers to “All machines have their frictions…. I say let us not have such a machine any longer” (Thoreau 3), this can be seen to explain the government unjust behavior occurring as well as the oppression and robbery being done to the people. Thoreau did not take a liking to how the government was conducting itself, and he called for honest man to rebel and revolutionize. Henry Thoreau is trying to appeal to the people’s logic and get them to realize how they are being swindled and treated unfairly. Another saying that depicts logos is “What makes this duty more urgent is the fact that the country so overrun is not our own, but ours is the invading army” (Thoreau 3). This statement, in particular, is powerful because it’s pointing out how the government has become foreign to its own citizens, which is not how it should be. A quote that came a few years later, seems to instill what Thoreau was wanting. The quote was from Abraham Lincoln in 1863 “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth”. This quote could have come from Thoreau’s hard work to instill a better government for the people. Logos can be seen plenty of times throughout his writing with the use of logical progression and comparison of our government.
Finally, the last phase on the rhetorical triangle is pathos and that is appealing to reader’s emotions. Appealing to emotions can be a breaking point regarding writing excellence. This is important because if a reader becomes emotionally drawn to a piece of writing, then they tend to build a connection with the author and increase the impact of the writing. In his writing, he appeared to use pathos occasionally. Personally, he seemed to utilize it through patriotism and to persuade to fight or disobey the government for one’s own belief. Just like Henry did, he did not agree with the government taxation law and instead of giving in, he stayed stubborn and accept jail time overpaying them. The use of his own treatment from the law, he was hoping to convince readers to act on their own beliefs. He states in his writing “A wise man will not leave the right to the mercy of chance, nor wish it to prevail through the power of the majority” (Thoreau 4). This appeals to the readers by making them feel guilty and ensure the audience feels that they must take action against this unjust treatment. They are not true patriots if they do not stand for the fair treatment of all citizens, instead of rolling over.
Henry David Thoreau does an amazing job of incorporating the rhetorical triangle within his writing to effectively present his points over the government’s behavior. He utilizes ethos, logos, and pathos to appeal to readers and get them to understand what is occurring and how wrong it is. Thoreau is not saying we should not have a government, however, they should be limited on their power and interventions. “Civil Disobedience” gave a compelling argument to the unjust being done not only to Henry Thoreau but to all of Americans through the years.
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