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The philosophy of defenselessness as a source of strength is based around encouraging an individual to recognize their vulnerabilities and obstacles and use them as an encouragement to become stronger. It is normal for people to think that they are vulnerable on the inside as well as the outside. However, the primary purpose of the term “vulnerability is strength” is to ensure that, even though anyone is powerless to improve their current condition, they can try figuring it out from inside. Finally, they can figure out how to exploit a person's flaws and vulnerabilities in the given social context to explain their own dominance. To corroborate the validity of the claims, two poets, Audre Lorde and Jamaica Osorio, express the validity of the statement in their works by focusing the message on how it is delivered to the reader. Each poet seeks to convince the reader that regardless of the situation that they are in and irrespective of how vulnerable they are, they ought to be able to work out the challenges and define themselves. Through the use of the appeal to emotion, Audre Lorde and Jamaica Osorio, combine the elements of symbolism, imagery, and vivid experience in their personal experiences to justify the fact that vulnerability is inevitable but should be considered a strength.
Audre Lorde, an African American writer, feminist, and civil rights activist, expresses how being quiet and scared to speak will get you nowhere, and that you need to let yourself be open and vulnerable in order to be successful and truly happy. The primary focus of pathos as a rhetorical appeal is that it seeks to convince the reader to make a decision based on the authors’ statement by using emotions (I.S.U. Writing Center 1). In her essay “Transformation of Silence into Language and Action” Lorde stresses how silence does not protect you and speaking out about how you feel or what you want will help push you in a more progressive direction. She employs pathos when she speaks from her own point of view of being African American and a lesbian and of her own experiences of being discriminated against. The appeal to emotion results in the way the audience is able to understand how she is feeling and the social difficulties she has dealt with firsthand. Furthermore, she expresses how laying one’s feelings out on the line shows great strength and does nothing but empower the subject. In the end, the reader noted that Lorde’s character shows change and develops throughout the essay- she builds her courage and becomes more confident in herself. She writes, “...we have been socialized to respect fear more than our own needs for language… and while we wait in silence for that final luxury of fearlessness, the weight of that silence will choke us” (44). The message here is that through the input of pathos, the reader learns how she learns to use her vulnerability as a positive catalyst to drive her to build her confidence and stand up for herself.
Jamaica Osorio also employs pathos through the use of imagery, paradox and symbolism when desribignt her experiences in her poem “Fire and Rain” to convince the reader appreciate that while everyone is vulnerable, it takes courage to overcome one’s challenges. Jamaica Osorio is not only a poet, but she is also a Kanaka Maoli activist, an educator, and has a PhD in English at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. In her poem “Fire and Rain” she teaches us that if you hide vulnerability, then you destroy yourself. Instead, we should all be open to each other. The input of pathos in this case involved the use of a vivid, concrete language in describing one’s story about a particular case scenario (I.S.U. Writing Center 2). In the poem, a mother suffers from depression and burns down her house with her and her children inside with the message intended to convince the reader into believing the message. Osorio considers the use of emotional appeal when she describes the vulnerability of the mother in the news story and connects her and her feeling defenseless to all of us. She also uses imagery of destructive forces such as fire and rain, showing how people are vulnerable to these forces that are powerful. Furthermore, she uses paradox when showing how fire and rain are two opposites but they both tend to be associated with destructive and negative forces in the poem. They are also a paradox because both fire and rain are raging within the mother’s body, and they are occurring in the same place. According to the poet, anyone would feel vulnerable and weak if they were fighting a battle that they couldn’t win. She uses the mother as a symbol representing all of us when we feel we are in a state of helplessness and depression. By using various forms of emotional appeal, the author justifies the message of the poem and the audience learns that we all are vulnerable and it can be self-destructive or hurtful to the people you love.
Furthermore, appeal to emotion is seen in Jamaica Osorio’s poem “Kumulipo” the vulnerability of not knowing her own story drives her to search for herself. She perfomed “Kumulipo” at the White House in 2009 and in the poem she stresses how important her cultural background is to her identity and who she is, and how this applies and every individual. She emphasizes “do not forget,” underlining the importance to always remember where you come from and who you are and what your identity is. To the reader, this repetition also shows vulnerability because she’s depending heavily and putting her trust in those who carry on after her to remember her, to remember for her. She also uses paradox when saying “I have forgotten how to remember.” Forgetting and remembering are two total opposites and it strikes you to hear someone forgetting to remember something so important as to who they are. No one wants to admit that they don’t know who they are or that they aren’t in touch with their roots because it’s sad to hear, and it shows great vulnerability and strength to admit how you’ve lost yourself and are finding your way. She speaks from a first-person point of view here, “Because I have forgotten my own grandparents middle names.” By taking advantage of the reader’s sense of pity, the poet emphasizes how the topic of cultural background and identity is something personal and very important to the individual.
In summary, all the three works of literature are able to convince the reader into understanding the importance of working against the odds of being vulnerable to being able to emerge conquerors. In poetry, being able to open yourself up and share who you are to others shows how truly strong you are as a writer. It takes lots of strength and confidence to be able to write about your emotions and tell your story to others, because in a way you are giving away pieces of yourself to others who want to listen to you. And there are also different ways of showing vulnerability through the use of pathos that includes imagery, symbolism and other key persuasion features. In Audre Lorde’s essay “Transformation of Silence into Language and Action” she demonstrates how being quiet and underspoken will get you nowhere, unless you choose to be brave. In Jamaica Osorio’s poem “Fire and Rain” she shows how hiding vulnerability can lead to destruction, whether it’s your own or others around you. Finally, in Jamaica Osorio’s poem “Kumulipo,” the poet describes vulnerability as being honest with us and admitting how she had forgotten and that it is her place to know her cultural background. However, the complexity in these writings are that even though they all show different positions or situations of vulnerability, they all show how being vulnerable is just the first step- and from there you are able to gain the confidence to progress and evoke emotion in your poetry, showing how powerful your writing is. All the poems are connected because they use emotions to show the strength that the writers had and their ability to overcome their inherent vulnerability weakness to make it a strength for them.
I.S.U. Writing Center. “Ethos, Pathos and Logos.” Student Success Center (2013): n. pag. Web. http://www2.isu.edu/success/writing/handouts/ethos_pathos_logos.pdf
Lorde, Audre. Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches. Trumansburg, NY: Crossing, 1984. Print.
Osorio, Jamaica. "Fire and Rain." YouTube, uploaded by Button Poetry, 23 Aug. 2013. https:// youtu.be/8-YN_EgRDng.
Osorio, Jamaica. "Kumulipo." YouTube, 23 Aug. 2013, https://youtu.be/kc176yYdcxY.
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