The Different Literary Techniques Used to Grab the Reader's Attention

Categories: Literature

In every piece of writing, directed towards an audience, the author employs a number of techniques to draw the reader’s attention. The author may do things that are out of the ordinary to catch an eye or they may do what authors have been doing for a very long time; that which pleases the reader. In the pieces The Trouble With Diversity by Walter Benn Michaels, Notes From no Man’s Land by Eula Biss, Scattered Inconveniences by Jerald Walker, and Just Walk on By: A Black Man Ponders His Power to Alter Public Space by Brent Staples, the authors use specific things like concrete details while employing a more general use of rhetorical strategy pathos to persuade their reader to understand that social injustices are multidimensional and must be explored from less traditional viewpoints.

From these new viewpoints, one can begin to build an understanding of the situation humans so often float past; skewed power distribution and as a result, injustice.

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In Notes From no Man’s Land, Eula Biss writes about the issue in something of a straightforward story and makes a comparison. This is her own story, one that contains her view of the ideas her neighbors, friends and family hold, and the story of the well-known Laura Ingalls Wilder in her experiences with the Native Americans. By writing her story in this way, comparing her modern day encounters to those of a woman who lived long ago, a reader can look more objectively at a problem that might feel very personal.

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Readers can see how parallel and similar the situations are and realize that their views on the two may be unreasonably different from each other. Ultimately, Biss knows nothing about the neighborhood she is entering and unlike most disillusioned people, she doesn’t pretend to. Her writing is straightforward and blunt. Biss is unafraid to tell an uncomfortable truth, “the word ‘gang’ is frequently used to avoid using the word ‘black’ in a way that might be offensive”. She doesn’t shy away from that which many people in casual conversation would avoid saying out loud. She also writes, was much as I know, and about as much as most white folks who talk about gangs seem to know, which is to say nothing” (Biss). It is a truth that also ties to Wilder’s story. She and her family knew little about the Native Americans and as a result, “Laura is guilty of fearing the Indians” (Biss). This shows us that fear and ignorance tie together quite neatly and as Biss kindly points out, “there are so many imagined dangers in the world” (Biss). These fears are unseen, but one may trick themselves into believing wholeheartedly that there is a reason to be terrified, much like what may swim beneath the surface of the water (Biss). Biss plays on our desire to sympathize when she tells about the man who is pained by the terror he sees in small women, because of their fear of him and it brings tears to his eyes (Biss). This terror goes both ways, a white person may be terrified of a minority because of what they have been told, and a black person may fear a white person as a reflection of the horror directed at them. Fear is something humans can relate to, whether they are afraid or feared or afraid of being feared, writing on the terror people feel in a situation makes it more relatable and certainly brings sympathy out of a reader.

In The Trouble With Diversity, Walter Benn Michaels uses mostly concrete details to persuade his readers. Michaels writes about current events in his essay about the nature of race and diversity, all the while claiming that the real problem lies within the views on poverty. It is true that schools claim diversity strictly because they have a large range of different nationalities and ethnicities but rarely, if ever, because of a wide range of incomes. Racial diversity can be a goal for an admissions policy (Michaels). Michaels uses Bakke vs Board of Regents to prove his point that diversity is primarily about race and little else, though it was once about geography, now race and diversity are “firmly associated” (Michaels). Michaels continues on to use information from The Economist to talk about the increasing inequality in America and to prove that “celebrating the diversity of American life has become the American left’s way of accepting their poverty, of accepting inequality” (Michaels). Throughout his essay, Michaels uses concrete evidence to support his facts and to persuade the reader into agreeing with his claims that diversity and race are closely and unnecessarily associated and that economic diversity deserves attention because it is extremely important.

Michaels also utilizes pathos through his language and diction. From the beginning to the end he uses we, us, and our. These kind of personal pronouns help readers make emotional connections to the author, the people he writes about, and his ideas. “We must shift our focus from cultural diversity to economic equality” (Michaels). He pulls the reader into the demand and by saying it is necessary for not only himself or the American people, but rather ‘we’, makes the readers immediately associate themselves with the situation. They think about the essay in terms of himself and not in terms of a general population or ‘somebody other than me. He is also looking at America in such a broad way that readers from America may find themselves thinking deeply and realistically about how the topic is related to them and whether they have played a part in what Michaels is claiming.

The final two pieces, very similar to each other are Scattered Inconveniences by Jerald Walker and Just Walk on By: A Black Man Ponders His Power to Alter Public Space by Brent Staples. Both essays are first person accounts of situations and the author’s feelings about those situations. Walker explains a scene where he was the racist person, fearing and hating a man who was helping him. He writes about his fright in detail, how he felt, he mentions his son and wife and why he felt the way he did; all things that the reader can understand. He had heard that the area “was a breeding ground for racists” (Walker). Knowing that he was thinking of the possibility of being attacked while panicking about the driver justifies his actions and thoughts. But as Biss writes, “there are many imagined dangers in the world”. When at the end it is revealed that the man was not menacing or evil but just helping, it is apparent that the fear, which results from social issues like racism and the fight for or against diversity, is not one sided.

Staples’ piece is less about the fear he feels and more about the fear he invokes, though the discomfort and disappointment are still present in his story. It is something of an explanation, showing several stories, his feeling and what he does as a result. He speaks of “being mistaken as a burglar” and being followed by authorities despite the fact that he had every right to be where he was (Staples). In this experience Staples claims he felt frightened. People feel threatened by his presence and he is confronted with a guard dog in a jewelry store, though he did nothing wrong or even out of the ordinary (Staples). He also sees women hunch over, afraid of him and while he acknowledges that a woman has a very real threat to her safety, it still makes him feel isolated and feared (Staples). Again, fear. Present on both side of the scene. The women who mistook Staples for a burglar, the women who shy away on the street, and the people who misjudge him solely on his appearance. Not only these people but Staples himself. He is afraid of scaring people and afraid of what they might do to him because of it.

Both essays certainly appeal to pathos, the first part of Scattered Inconveniences is Walker explaining why he was frightened. The reader could understand the situation in that moment and feel for Walker. In addition to his explanations, Walker talks about his child, whose safety he is concerned about and his wife. Family is a very relatable topic. Just Walk on By: A Black Man Ponders His Power to Alter Public Space completely plays on the emotions of the reader. Staples is explaining himself, the fear, the rejection, and the disappointment in one fell swoop. The emotions in the story run from sorrow, to fear, to pity, to frustration at the people who misjudge, and to a realization that each person is a part of society and a part of making people feel afraid.

Persuasion is an art. There are a great number of techniques to draw attention, change opinions and alter views. They have been being used in essays for a long time and will continue to be. In their writing, The Trouble With Diversity by Walter Benn Michaels, Notes From no Man’s Land by Eula Biss, Scattered Inconveniences by Jerald Walker, and Just Walk on By: A Black Man Ponders His Power to Alter Public Space by Brent Staples, the authors use concrete details, as well as the rhetorical strategy pathos to persuade their reader to understand that social injustices are multidimensional and must be explored from less traditional viewpoints. With these writing techniques the authors help the reader to understand social issues and understand that they can be talked about and injustice can be acknowledged.

Works Cited

  1. McQuade, Donald. The Writer’s Presence: A Pool of Readings. 3rd ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2000. Print.

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The Different Literary Techniques Used to Grab the Reader's Attention. (2021, Sep 16). Retrieved from

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