What Is the Role of Rhetoric in Literature?

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  • Written By: Lee Johnson
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The role of rhetoric in literature is to efficiently convey the author’s ideas to the reading audience. Rhetoric is used in literature in the same way as in political speeches, to present the underlying ideas of the author in a persuasive way. The argument put forward by a piece of writing is presented using rhetorical techniques and its overall style or voice. Authors use rhetorical techniques such as metaphor, allegory, and oxymoron in order to persuasively convey their opinion on a subject. Rhetorical techniques can also help authors create emotional responses in the reading audience.

The primary function of rhetoric in literature is the same as the function of rhetoric in any field. Rhetors aim to convey their opinions and arguments in as effective a manner as possible. The underlying theme of fictional stories often relates to an argument being put forward by the author. For example, George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four is a story, in one sense, but the underlying argument relates to totalitarianism and its dangers. Orwell uses rhetorical techniques such as irony to convey the brainwashing methods employed by his dystopian society, for example, the Ministry of Love is really the center for torture.


Rhetorical techniques are accepted methods of achieving a particular effect, and can be found in many literary works. Allegory is a common example of rhetoric in literature. This was used by Dante to create his “Divine Comedy” trilogy, which is a huge allegory for his personal journey towards the Christian faith. Other techniques such as personification, alliteration, and metaphor are also common in literature.

The use of rhetoric in literature is common because both are concerned with the distinction between “logos” and “lexis,” or logic and the language used to express it. Rhetors are primarily concerned with how the logical content of their arguments can be presented linguistically in order to have the most profound effect on the audience. Likewise, authors who want to present an argument in the form of a scene or story have to consider the ways in which language can be used to convey it.

Pathos is a common part of rhetoric in literature, because many authors aim to create an emotional response in their readers. Rhetors are concerned with creating emotional responses in the audience in order to make people agree with the points they raise. Authors can use rhetorical techniques for the same reason or to create an emotional response to a scene. A writer can create an emotional scene in order to make a point about a larger issue. For example, a scene focusing on the parents of a soldier killed in battle can make a point about the futility of war.


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