What is a Rhetorical Device

What is a Rhetorical Device

Rhetorical Device is the technique of using language in order to persuade, motivate or inform the readers and writers. It studies various methods of convincing, persuading and motivating people. Its main aim is to persuade the audience to accept a difference perspective. This is achieved by using logical and effective arguments.

Rhetorical devices can be seen in everyday speech as well as in political speeches and advertising. They are mostly used in situations where people need to be convinced to accept something.

Rhetorical devices include devices such as repetition, emotional/logical appeal, irony, parallelism, hyperbole, compare/contrast, etc. Given below are some examples of rhetorical devices in famous speeches.

Examples of Rhetorical Devices

“What we need in the United States is not division. What we need in the United States is not hatred. What we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness; but is love and wisdom and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country whether they be white or whether they be black.”

– Robert F. Kennedy

In this speech, Kennedy uses the rhetorical device, anaphora (the repetition of a word or a phrase at the beginning of successive clauses or sentences) to persuade the audience.

Repetition is a major rhetorical device used in many persuasive speeches. The repetition of the phrase “I have a dream” in Martin Luther King’s, I Have a Dream speech, repetition of the two words “we shall” in Churchill’s We shall fight on the beaches speech are two examples of such effective and persuasive speeches.

“Can anyone look at the record of this Administration and say, ‘Well done’?

Can anyone compare the state of our economy when the Carter Administration took office with where we are today and say, ‘Keep up the good work’?

Can anyone look at our reduced standing in the world today and say, ‘Let’s have four more years of this’?”

– Ronald Reagan

In this speech, Regan uses a succession of rhetorical questions to bring to highlight his ideas. A rhetorical question is a question whose answer is quite obvious or implied.What is a Rhetorical Device

Examples of Rhetorical Devices in Literature

“Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;.”

Raven by Edgar Allen Poe

Edgar Allen Poe’s long poem “The Raven” contains many examples of rhetorical devices. The main rhetorical device on the above excerpt is alliteration – the repetition of the ‘d’ sound in doubting, dreaming, deep, dared, etc.

“What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?”

Harlem by Langston Hughes

In this poem, Harlem uses a variety of rhetorical questions. He asks the readers to consider the possible implications of the main question – what happens to a dream deferred?

“the shackles of love straiten’d him
His honour rooted in dishonoured stood
And faith unfaithful kept him falsely true.”

–   “Lancelot and Elaine” by Tennyson

In this poem, Tennyson uses oxymorons to add a dramatic effect to his poem. Oxymoron is the juxtaposition of two seemingly contrasting ideas.

 Image Courtesy:

“President John F. Kennedy” by NASA – Great Images in NASA Description (Public Domain) Commons Wikimedia 

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