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A Rhetorical Analysis of A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf

A Rhetorical Analysis of A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf

In various aspects of the patriarchal society, women have access to fewer opportunities compared to men. Virginia Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own” is a groundbreaking text representing the 20th-century feminist thought of women in writing. Woolf explores the history of women in literature through a provocative investigation of the material and social conditions required for writers. This text evaluates the plight of women in literature, particularly in the Elizabethan period in England, when female writers were judged harshly when lucky enough to achieve success to even be criticized. Woolf’s main aim in writing this fictional text was to demonstrate that women did not completely have the freedom to express themselves because of the oppression they received from society.

Summary of the Text

The narrator of the text was in search of answers to queries she had on wealth, creativity, men, and women at the British Museum when she realized that there are too many books written on women, but almost all are written by men. She wondered why there is such great disparity in the writings of men and women and decided to explore a dozen randomly selected books. While she tried to determine why women were poor, she found various other topics written on women, by men, with a contradictory array of opinions. In general, the information the narrator learns is that England is a highly patriarchal society where men have all the power and the money. In writing, men are not really pronouncing the inferiority of women but rather emphasizing their own superiority. However, the narrator believes that in a hundred years women will have a better place in society. They will no longer be the ‘protected’ gender.

The Author’s Rhetorical Approach

            Woolf uses various models of persuasion to help the reader understand her main argument representing the patriarchy in English society during the time of her authorship. As coined by Aristotle, ethos, pathos, and logos represent artistic proofs that are used by authors to convince audiences of their arguments (Foss 27). The use of logos helps an author to appeal to a reader’s logic. There are various proofs used by Woolf in chapter 2 of her text to appeal to the reader’s logic. First, the fact that there are books about women at the library, a majority of which have been written by men is reason enough to believe that there is an inconsistency in the writing world in relation to gender. This literary proof motivates the reader to question why women are not writing their own stories. There must be a logical reason why women are not as highly represented in literature, even when it comes to writing their own stories.  Other authors have supported the logic that the lower representation of women in literature is a representation of the patriarchy that manifests in other aspects of society. Radway (49), whose work is written in the current era, agrees that there is a significant inconsistency in the representation of women in literature as a result of the significant challenges that women have to go through within society before they can achieve success. This supports the logic behind Woolf’s logical argument showing the significant differences in literature’s gender representations.

The text also uses pathos to draw the readers’ attention to the emotional appeal of the author’s ideas. Woolf attempts to appeal to a reader’s emotions only by focusing on the almost negative or demeaning literature read by the narrator about women. Woolf admitted that “A Room of One’s Own” is a fictional text. This means that the representations of the narrator may not entirely be the representation of the exact occurrences of the book’s setting, even though they have been inspired by her true observations. When the narrator analyses the various texts she found about women, she focuses on the non-positive writings on women. For instance, she evaluates the topic, “The mental, moral, and physical inferiority of the female sex” and “Women and poverty” (29, 30). These texts mainly focus on the subjugation of women by men. While this may be a representation of society, it is almost as if Woolf claims that the narrator never found anything positive written about women in the ‘randomly selected’ pile of books. The point is, her intention is to appeal to the emotion of the reader to pay attention only to the negativity on women within the literature within the period her text in set in. When a person reads the text, they are emotionally touched by the significant disregard for women’s power by the male authors who write about them. In fact, she emphasizes specific statements that will spark the emotion of disgust in the subjugation of women. For instance, she quotes various phrases from the book ‘Women and Poverty’ read by the narrator, which focuses mainly on diminishing women and emphasizing the superiority of men. For instance, the phrase ‘women have no character at all’ written by a male author, emphasizes the disrespect of men towards women, appealing to a reader’s emotion.

Woolf also utilized the literary proof of ethos to create an ethical appeal, by confirming the credibility of the arguments used in the text. She mentions various respected classical writers showing that they shared the same opinions on women as the other authors in England at the time the text is set. For instance, she mentions Shakespeare, Goethe, and La Bruyere among other respected names in literature to help emphasize her point about male authors and the subjugation of women in society. Once a reader sees that the respected classical writers maintain the same trends as the narrator’s argument in writing about women, they are inclined to believe that the argument is a true representation of the society when the text was written. This inclusion in the text makes the argument less about the opinions of some male authors but rather the general opinions of women in the literature world. One is more inclined to believe the author’s arguments when there is evidence from the classical authors they know and probably respect in the literature that supports the arguments of the author.

Woolf’s decision to use a fictional narrator rather than herself was also a great strategy for enhancing the ethical appeal of the text. She removed herself from the story so that her own personality could be eliminated and that she could get a chance to argue dispassionately. The narrator is evidently based on Woolf herself because she shares her voice but she is not her. The narrator is able to be objective in her thinking without any personal prejudices. This strategy is successful in helping Woolf to make the text less about her personal opinion but about the true representation of society’s gender structures.  If the text was based evidently on her opinion, she would have affected the readers’ trust in the credibility of the arguments because they would have easily been connected to her character. The use of the fictional character was a brilliant strategy to eliminate herself from her arguments.

Woolf is generally successful in convincing a reader that women were significantly oppressed in society during the time that she wrote this text. She uses various proofs such as the significant imbalance in the number of books about women written by men and those written by women. This proof shows that women had fewer opportunities to express themselves, even to talk about themselves. She also uses a lot of emotional appeal by focusing on the authors’ specific words written about women in society. A lot of the phrases and paragraphs she quotes focus on the very negative opinions of men about women, which sparks an emotional response to the level of superiority men have over women. Lastly, she uses the names of various respected authors in her text to spark an ethical appeal in the reader. The most successful rhetorical approach is the pathos strategy used by the author. The emotional appeal created by the narrator when putting emphasis on the very negative writings by the authors she analyzed creates the most influence in understanding the opinions of men on their position in society and the position in which women should belong.

However, there is an apparent fallacy of hasty generalizations in Woolf’s arguments. Her argument on the oppression of women in literature might be true because it has been supported by numerous other authors with valid arguments and evidence, but her arguments are generalizations developed from what she already believed when writing the text. Hasty generalizations fallacy is a result of the lack of logical justification of arguments using sufficient and unbiased evidence (Walton 162). Woolf’s arguments are biased by her views. For instance, the narrator apparently picked random books about women by men, but she never evaluated any positive representation of women by the said men. This shows that the author only wanted to focus on the evidence that would support her argument to give the chance for generalization of what she already believed. There is an intentional neglect of any positive representation of women in the texts so that the argument of overall subjugation can be supported.

In spite of the impact of this fallacy, Woolf’s main argument that men are superior to women in literature and in society can be classified as an axiom. An axiom is a statement that is considered as being established or self-evidently true. The general view in society to date with regard to gender is that men are treated as superior to women. Although the author expresses hopes that patriarchy would not be the reality a century after her text, this system is still considered the norm in today’s society. Therefore, Woolf’s argument is an axiom because it is considered self-evidently true. Even with the generalization fallacy, she is still successful in convincing the author that there is a significant oppression of women in society.

References

Foss, Sonja K. Rhetorical criticism: Exploration and practice. Waveland Press, 2017.

Radway, Janice A. Reading the romance: Women, patriarchy, and popular literature. Univ of North Carolina Press, 2009.

Virginia, Woolf. “A room of one’s own.” New York (1929): 21-34

Walton, D. (1999). Rethinking the fallacy of hasty generalization. Argumentation13(2), 161-182.

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Question 


A Rhetorical Analysis of A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf

A Rhetorical Analysis of A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf

Please use the Chapter 2 source that I have provided below to analyze the type of rhetoric that is used by the writer. Also, analyze the use of any humour she uses. You’ll look at the different types of appeals this writer uses, Ethos Logos and Pathos

Formal Essay One: Single Text Analysis

For this first formal essay assignment (FIVE to SIX pages/ 15 points), I want you to choose one text from our reader–print or visual–to focus your scholarly analysis. Your job is to deconstruct the rhetorical strategies that the author(s) uses to assert their purpose.

To deconstruct means:
1. to apply the theories of deconstruction to (a text, film, etc)

2. to expose or dismantle the existing structure in (a system, organization, etc)

That being so, you are deconstructing with the purpose of determining whether or not the rhetorical piece you chose is a successful one. To this point, consider first examining your own subjectivity towards the piece. There is a reason you chose it amongst all the rest. Perhaps you are in favour of its major premise, or perhaps you would like to take your best shot at a worldview with which you fundamentally disagree. You will do yourself no harm, academically speaking, to reveal your own subjectivity in this essay. In fact, it could be a shrewd rhetorical move (think: ethical appeal, establishing good credit with your reading audience). And when it comes to your analysis, I still expect a solid scholarly treatment of the piece, but I also understand that personal opinion is often the initial guide in these matters.

Consider the following checklist to help you along the way:

Identify and clarify the agenda of the author(s).
Identify the general rhetorical approach: ethos, pathos, and logos.
Identify and deconstruct particular proofs employed.
Offer an argument as to where these proofs might align themselves in terms of rhetorical approach.
Weigh and measure the effectiveness and/or success of these rhetorical strategies. Consider the following questions to help in this particular task:
Does the author seem to utilize these rhetorical strategies with a level of expertise? How can you tell?
Are the proofs employed by the author relying on any suspicious or apparent fallacies? Where?
Which premises in these proofs might be fallacious?
Could they be maxims rather than axioms? How do you know?
Where is the writer most successful in their arguments? In what ways specifically?

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