Author: Jay Heinrichs
Genre: Nonfiction; Self-Help
Publisher: Three Rivers Press
Published: February 27, 2007
Number of Pages: 336
Ever wonder why politicians use certain phrases? Or how a snappy ad convinces you to consume more calories than your body (or bank account) really needs? Or how your friend’s kid talked you into dropping $50 on popcorn? It’s all in this book.
Heinrichs breaks the daunting world of rhetoric into understandable pieces that you can learn to recognize and even utilize yourself. He uses personal stories, ancient Greek ideas, ads, and some choice Homer Simpson witticisms to explain the ways of rhetoric.
NOTE: I reluctantly took a semester of Rhetoric in college. By finals, it was one of my favorite classes. That was due in large part to the way the professor taught the class, but I strongly believe this book (and Sin & Syntax by Constance Hale) played a big part in that as well.
Author: Suzanne Collins
Genre: YA Dystopia
Original Publisher: Scholastic
Number of Pages: 384
Set in a dystopian/post-apocalyptic America, the book is narrated by Katniss Everdeen, a teenager from a poor District of Panem. Since her father’s death in a mine explosion several years before the events of the book, Katniss has kept her family alive by using hunting and gathering skills in the forests just beyond the District fence. The story opens the morning of Reaping Day, when tributes are selected for the annual Hunger Games.
Although the story is widely-known, I’m going leave the description at that in the small chance that someone reading this hasn’t read the book or watched the movie.
The Ties That Bind
Warning: Spoilers follow in the form of details and plot points of The Hunger Games Series.
Due to the nature of these stories, it is impossible to point out the connections
between them without including these details.
I read The Hunger Games not long after I had read Thank You for Arguing for my Rhetoric class. I was fascinated to realize how rhetorically-savvy many of the fictional dystopian characters were.
In Thank You for Arguing, Heinrichs explains the finer points of communicating to a specific audience in such a way that you get the outcome you want. Rhetoric isn’t fool-proof, especially if you have an opponent who knows the same concepts, but it can give you an edge. There are several ways to “win” an argument. It is even possible to “lose” an argument, but still get the outcome you want—which means, really you still win!
In The Hunger Games, many characters use rhetorical devices to try and create the outcome he or she wants. Often this outcome is simple—stay alive.
Unlike most of Panem, Katniss has a superpower of sorts. Apart from great skill with a bow or a comprehensive knowledge of edible plants, Katniss can also recognize the ways that people use rhetoric to sway their audience. This is especially evident when she sizes up her competition and their strategies on Interview Night. This is a chance for each tribute to appeal to the citizens of the Capitol in the hopes that they will send their favorites gifts of food, weapons, or other useful items during the Games. Katniss observes that Glimmer (District 1) uses her good looks to appeal to the audience in a provocative dress. “Foxface” (District 5) presents herself as clever by answering Caesar Flickerman’s questions in a “sly and evasive” manner. Rue (District 11) is just plain adorable. Thresh (District 11) answers all questions with a terse “yes” or “no,” ignoring all attempts at light-hearted conversation. He is big and strong enough to get away with coming off “sullen and hostile”—something Katniss couldn’t quite pull off.
The interviewer, Caesar Flickerman, also knows a thing or two about rhetoric. As Katniss puts it, Caesar, “helps you out” during the interview—asking questions that will best show the characteristic each tribute is trying to portray to the audience. During her own interview, Caesar helps Katniss appeal to this audience by identifying her favorite part of the Capitol—the food. He also guides her to specific topics he knows the audience is interested in—Cinna’s beautiful outfits, Katniss’s incredible training score, and her relationship with her sister Prim, for whom Katniss volunteered as tribute. Through Caesar’s skilled guidance and Cinna’s support, Katniss is able to successfully win-over her Capitol audience.
Katniss’s closest allies are also rhetorically-savvy. Peeta, as Katniss notes again and again, has a way with words. He exudes a sense of candor and likeability that earns him friends and acceptance almost anywhere. During his interview, Peeta and Caesar Flickerman establish an instant rapport. He introduces himself to the people of Panem as the son of a baker. He makes himself relatable by divulging a funny anecdote involving something the audience knows about—the complicated buttons found in the Capitol showers. Peeta brings it all home with a small confession—he has a long-unrequited crush on Katniss. Peeta is able—in just three minutes—to establish himself as likable, human, and tragic. He also manages to bind himself, in the minds of the Capitol audience, with Katniss, whom they already love. By the end of his speech, they are all pulling for the pair from District 12.
Haymitch recognizes Katniss’s ability to see through rhetorical strategies and uses this to send messages to her during the games. Although they have no direct contact once Katniss enters the arena, she can tell by the timing and contents of sponsor gifts what Haymitch wants her to do. Her abilities are not fool-proof, though. Haymitch uses his well-known alcohol dependency, questionable hygiene, and general unpleasantness to mask his role in the rebellion from Katniss as well as the rest of Panem. Through this deceit, he is able to successfully rescue Katniss and a few other former Champions from the clock arena in Catching Fire.
Personally, I think the absolute rhetorical master of the whole series is Cinna, but I think I’ll save that topic for another post.
Throughout the Hunger Games series, many of the characters use the rhetorical strategies described in Thank You for Arguing to keep the Districts in check, incite rebellion, or simply stay alive.
The Girls by Emma Cline, The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins, and The Circle by Dave Eggers