Style Guide Entry 3 — Pathos

Rhetorical figures flood the lines and pages of virtually everything we read or say on a daily basis, including this very sentence. The language used in these figures can often be utilized to obtain or maintain attention, evoke emotion, relay information effectively, etc. In many cases, one or more of the three artistic proofs are used to attract audiences, these proofs include pathos, ethos, and logos. Pathos is a means of convincing or drawing in an audience by evoking to their sense of emotions. While evoking emotion is an extremely useful tactic in grasping the attention of the audience, it is more effective when an author has a heightened audience awareness and can properly encourage readers to empathize. In tending to the emotions of the readers, writers are taking into consideration one of the most formative qualities of being human, assuming them to be the majority of their audiences.

Pathos is often employed by invoking a reader’s sense of sympathy. Emotional attachment allows the reader to invest some part of themselves in the goals of the main characters. In the short story “The Violin”, as an approach to the task of connecting the reader, writers emphasize the significance of Jink’s lost violin, being a gift from her deceased mother (Alex Soas et al., The Violin. Storium. Scene 1). Furthermore, by painting her mother’s character profile in such a positive light, a stark contrast with other characters in the story, the writers succeed in aligning the desires and goals of the protagonist with that of the readers. In all writing styles, it is important to take into consideration audience needs and expectations, but especially, in fiction it is essential that authors gather the attention of readers in the opening of the writing, as expected by most fiction readers. This example utilizes pathos as a way for readers to share Jink’s desperation in the pursuit of her precious violin. On the other hand, pathos can also simply be a tool for readers to draw commonality between themselves and characters.

In fiction writing, pathos is used as a technique to relate the reader to the writing’s characters and their situations. A fitting example of this concept is shown in the motives of Diana, a middle-aged farmer in the 1950’s, in the short story “Harmonia”. The story follows Diana’s journey from a mere farmer to the founder of an extravagant music festival. Her inability to pursue her dreams in music, out of an obligation to operate the family farm, is a circumstance that resonates profoundly with many readers, especially in the young-adult genre. This once again is attributed to exceptional audience awareness among the writers. In particular, the authors include a scenario in which Diana is faced with opposition by Mr. Roccafella, a businessman seeking to buy her land, in the process of creating the festival, yet her tenacity for what she wants and unwillingness to compromise any further allows her to overcome (M. Aravapalli et al. Harmonia. Storium. Scene 3). In coming-of-age stories, there is often a shift in thinking or ideology by the protagonist, this is also a common characteristic shown in adolescents and young-adults. The writers, who have likely experienced some sort of pressure themselves towards a certain profession or focus, intentionally chose this particular issue to increase character-reader relatability, resultantly causing the reader to empathize with the main character. Readers’ empathy is quite important when it comes to utilizing pathos, while building an attachment, it also increases the reader’s understanding behind the characters actions and responses to the action in the story.

Another tactic commonly used in writings that exercise the pathos mode of persuasion, is portraying the character(s) in their most vulnerable form, usually at the beginning. In many writings, an underdog, or a person who has a history of unfortunate circumstances, is the used as the protagonist. This once again is shown in an encounter with Diana and the manager of Johnny Summer, a popular musician in the story. Diana calls Summer’s office inquiring if he’d be available to perform at her music festival, she is quickly dismissed, implying her sub ordinance to the manager (M. Aravapalli. Harmonia. Storium. Scene 3).  By this point the writers have established the relationship between the reader and Diana, and this causes readers to feel the rejection she feels, after being invested throughout the story. Vulnerability is commonly used because most cultures encourage people to be protective of their insecurities and being vulnerable is perceived as a sign of desperation.

In exploring more of the discussed examples and others, take notice of rhetorical choices that are heavily connoted. It is quite typical for writers to employ more imaginative rhetoric in an attempt to draw from the bank of associations that are entwined into specific phrases and contexts. This again is predominantly why this method is so effective, human brains are innately programmed to associate one’s surroundings with its memories. And often with these memories, feelings come attached, adding another layer of complexity.