Rhetorical Analysis vs Literary Analysis


Hey! My name is Kelsey. I’m a PhD student at East Carolina University in the department of English Today I’m gonna be explaining the difference between rhetorical analysis and literary analysis. This is a common point of confusion for students in writing classes and literary analysis classes like English 101 or Intro to Literature. I thought I would make a video to give you something to help you remember the differences. So, in rhetorical analysis and literary analysis you are doing analysis. Surprise, surprise! You aren’t just summarizing. Summarizing just tells you what happened in the story of the piece of writing That’s not what you’re doing. The summary can be an important first step in analysis, but it’s not enough I know that’s very difficult, sometimes, for a lot of students because it’s very common in high school to only summarize. So, when you get to college and you’re asked to analyze, but you only summarize and points are deducted, it’s very discouraging. In analysis, you’re using critical thinking skills to come to some kind of conclusion about the piece of writing, which we call a “text”. It can also be a film, a poster, a picture, an advertisement. Lots of different things can be considered “texts”, even if they’re not made up of words. In this instance, “text” just means “the thing you are analyzing”. So The difference between summary and analysis would be: When you summarize, you are just briefly recounting what happened. You are just saying: “who”, “what”, “where”, “when”, maybe “how” But, you are not saying “why” So, in analysis, you’re doing more of the “how” and “why”. In analysis, you need to interpret what happened in some way You need to evaluate it in some way. In rhetorical analysis, you are usually evaluating the text based on: ethos, pathos, and logos. Which are the three points of the rhetorical triangle. Sometimes, they may also be called author, audience, and message. “Author” corresponds to ethos. “Audience” corresponds to pathos. And “Message” corresponds to logos. Ethos, pathos, and logos are: credibility (which is ethos), which is where the word “ethics” comes from which means: there are things in the text that help you determine whether the author is someone you should trust or not. If what they say is credible and believable, or not. In pathos, these are things that the author does to get an emotional response out of the audience. Pathos is where the word “pathetic” comes from, but not meaning “oh you’re so pathetic, and pitiful, bless your heart.” “Pathetic” as in a pathetic appeal, meaning an appeal to emotion. So that’s the difference between “pathetic” like “you’re pathetic” and a pathetic appeal. “Pathetic appeal” just means getting emotion out of someone. It’s where the words empathy and sympathy come from. They all have “path-“, just like “pathos”. “Path-” would be the stem, from Latin or Greek or whatever language. Then, logos: the word “logic”comes from logos. Logos is usually facts or statistics or numbers and figures that all help the work make sense. They all are there to make the work fit reality in some way. If the numbers are wrong, if it doesn’t make sense, if it’s contradictory, then it doesn’t appeal to logos because it doens’t make logical sense. So, those are ethos, pathos, and logos. When you are doing a rhetorical analysis, you are evaluating based on its ability to utilize ethos, pathos, and logos. Some texts, you will find, use mostly pathos or mostly ethos, or mostly logos. It’s very common for an author not to use equal amounts of all three. And there are reasons for that. When you do rhetorical analysis, it’s important understand the intended audience, who the author is, and what their purpose is. Because if the author’s purpose is to convince you that something is bad, such as cancer, and that we want to cure cancer and treat cancer, in a way that helps patients keep their dignity and that is affordable yes, statistics would be useful, but statistics wouldn’t be moving in that instance. Pathos and emotions, making people sympathize/empathize or feel compassion would be the most effective. Especially if the intended audience is trying to reach reach people who don’t know someone with cancer. When you don’t know someone who struggled with cancer, it’s a lot easier to not understand what it’s like. So, to make people understand what it’s like, you want them to feel compassion, by using pathos. That pathos will come in the form of word choices, pictures, or audio, like the sound of crying All kinds of things like that elicit emotion, make people feel something. So you want to look for those types of choices that the author has made. That they are trying to use to reach the audience. To do a rhetorical analysis, you evaluate those choices. You identify them first, that’s a part of your summary. Then you evaluate them. To evaluate them, you need to understand the audience and purpose, like I said. You need to ask yourself: did this author effectively achieve that purpose for that intended audience? If not, If it’s not logical, if it’s not credible, trustworthy, and believable, and it’s not moving in the correct way, then it’s not effective, and that’s what you say. If it does those things effectively: if it does seem to be moving, if it does seem to make logical sense for the context, and it does have credibility, something that proves the author’s credible, and we should believe them because they’ve done their research appropriately Then, you evaluate it say it was effective. So, that’s rhetorical analysis in a nutshell. On the other hand, literary analysis looks at texts, again, we call them “texts”, but it could be books, could be poems, could be short stories, could be songs, could be movies. It could be lots of things. Anything that tells a story in some way, basically. We analyze those differently than rhetorical analysis, but it’s still an evaluation. In literary analysis, you are basically drawing conclusions and making judgement/evaluations based on a text’s ability to tell a story. Or Its ability to affect the audience to make them think it’s a story Does that make sense? There’s not always a full story with a beginning, a middle, and an end But something can tell a story with a snapshot of the story, without telling the whole story. In literary analysis, you’re gonna look at word choices, again, or imagery, or camera angles if it’s a movie. You’re usually going to be asked to analyze through a certain lens. or an analytical framework – big word! Or, through a set of literary theories You might be asked to do a feminist literary analysis of “The Yellow Wall-Paper”. So, you would look for word choices in that story that lend themselves to help readers see this story as having a feminist message. A message about women’s equality to men. Or it might be a New Criticism analysis. In New Criticism, the text must stand alone. We don’t care what the author did or who they were. We don’t care about the historical background. We don’t really wanna worry about other analysis frameworks like feminism or psychoanalysis We just wanna look at the text. As a stand-alone item, if you know nothing else about it, what is it saying and what is it doing? What do the word choices make you feel? What do the word choices make you think? What seems special or significant about certain choices in the text? T.S. Eliot calls this “literariness”. What makes this text feel like a story worth reading, or a story worth watching, or a story worth listening to? So that’s the gist of literary analysis. You’re gonna have a framework or a theory to apply and you’re gonna evaluate a story in those terms. When it’s films, a lot of times there are specific things you look for in the film: camera angles, lighting, colors, how many people are on screen and whose looking at who. Each one of these things is often a very specific, purposeful choice that the film makers made to make you understand the story in a certain way. So, for example, if you’ve got a screenshot or a still of a movie, and you’ve got a big, open field, and there’s one person in the field, standing off to one side. One little person over here, and a big, empty field. The camera is not focused on the person; it’s focused on the big, empty field. A lot of times, in literary analysis we would say that represents isolation. Or that vast, open spaces represent how big and empty the world can feel when you’re all alone. Those choices helped present that message as a part of the story because there’s no one else in sight as far as the eye can see. This person’s all alone in a big field, not in a big crowd of people But, You could achieve the same feeling of loneliness and isolation if you’ve got a person in a crowd, looking down at their phone, crying, and no one notices or asks if they’re okay. That’s not literal, physical isolation, but mental or emotional isolation. Again, that’s using our critical thinking skills: looking at the “who”, “what”, “where”, “when”, “why”, and “how” and using our best judgement, our instinct, and going with our gut on “well, how would I feel if I was in that situation?” That’s what a lot of literary analysis is, and that’s what a lot of rhetorical analysis is. If I was in the intended audience for this rhetorical analysis or I was in the audience watching this film or at home reading this novel, and I put myself in those shoes, what would my reaction be? What would I think? Would it make sense to me? And that’s the gist of it! If you have any further questions, please feel free to reach out. I will also try to some resources down below (in the description box) that you can refer to that explain it very well as well. If this was helpful, please do let me know! I hope to make more of these about other common topics that tend to trip students up. If you have ideas for those, just let me know! I’ll be happy to make a video. Thanks for listening! Bye!

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