1. On Compassion

Rhetorical Strategies of Barbara Lazear Ascher

 A Skeptical tone was achieved in On Compassion through a series of rhetorical devices and styles. With the use of personal anecdotes, questions, selection of details, a variety of diction, and tone, the audience was able to conceive Ascher’s attitude toward the subject of compassion. Giving her own self-reflection also gives us a better understanding of her attitude toward compassion. Why does one act in ways that they do, is it compassion, or something else triggering it?

In order to convey her attitude toward the subject of compassion, she used personal anecdotes. Through experiences with the less fortunate she was able to see how people act and what compelled these actions toward them.  When witnessing a woman giving money to a homeless man, Ascher questioned, was if fear or compassion that motivated this gift? Also, when she witnessed an owner of a coffee shop giving food and coffee to an old man, Ascher questioned the reasoning for this action. These stories were used to create this essay. Based on these anecdotes, and the actions of these people, Ascher is able to convey her attitude toward compassion.

Her skeptical tone is accomplished when she perpetually questions the motives behind the acts of each person in her accounts. Her questions, “Was it fear or compassion that motivated the gift? and What compels this woman to feed this man? Pity? Care? Compassion?” show skepticism toward her subject. Following these questions, many possible answers were given.

A variety of diction was used. This diction created a bond with the reader.  She used words such as “we” to show the equality between her and the reader. By doing this, she is drawing the reader in-creating a bond-making it much easier to show how she feels about the subject of compassion. It also shows that a majority of people feel a certain way about something, and not just her, making it irrefutable.

Certain selection of  detail was used to help convey her attitude toward compassion. In the beginning Ascher makes you feel pity for the homeless man. She describes him wearing a button-less shirt with a missing sleeve, baggy trousers, and dread-locks in his hair. Ascher then goes on to explain the way the home-less man stares at the women and her baby in the stroller. This description gives the reader a sense of fear. It gives the reader mixed emotions, it makes the reader skeptical on how to feel about the home-less man. Giving these two completely different feelings adds to Barbara Ascher’s skeptical attitude.

Through rhetoric and style, Barbara Lazear Ascher was able to convey her attitude toward compassion. Throughout the essay she made it very clear on her feelings of compassion; she was skeptical of the motives behind a person and their actions. To complete the essay she gave her own self-reflection. By stating, ” I don’t believe that one is born compassionate. Compassion is not a character trait like a sunny disposition. It must….” she shows what her feelings are on compassion.


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