Anna Lowe’s Nonfiction Rhetorical Analysis

Anna Lowe, 11th Grade

Anna Lowe, an 11th grade student in Ms. Grafton’s AP Language class, wrote a non-fiction rhetorical analysis on March 9, 2021, that we are honored to share with you. In this paper, Anna compares the rhetorical devices used from two contrasting figures: essayist Pico Iyer and President Biden. She explains how the circumstances surrounding the inception of the two non-fiction pieces dictate the outcome of their writings, resulting in drastically different purposes for the texts, and yet, Anna finds in her analysis that there are many common rhetorical devices used by these two men despite their differing styles.

Across time periods and cultures that scarcely seem to have a thing in common, writing, especially non-fiction, serves as a bridge, connecting all of humanity through thoughts and feelings that can only come from the soul. This is certainly true of the essay, “Nowhere Man,” written by Pico Iyer in 1997, as well as President Biden’s 2021 “Inaugural Address.” Given the distinct nature of the circumstances surrounding their respective inceptions, Iyer and Biden naturally employ contrasting rhetorical devices, though they occasionally converge on the same devices to further their respective messages.

When analyzing Iyer’s “Nowhere Man,” and Biden’s “Inaugural Address,” it is important to note that the time period and current events differed vastly. “Nowhere Man”’ was published in 1997, a time before things like Netflix or the attack on the world trade center on 9/11. Naturally, the attitude of the world and of humanity during that time is disparate compared to the attitudes of today. Biden’s “Inaugural Address,” on the other hand, was delivered on January 20, 2021, and came immediately following what was perhaps one of the most tumultuous years in American history. Biden even alludes to many of the crises of 2020 that caused division and suffering, mentioning, “A raging virus. Growing inequity. The sting of systemic racism. A climate in crisis. America’s role in the world” (Biden). In addition to the difference in global and national affairs that came with each time period, “Nowhere Man,” was written for an entirely different purpose than Biden’s “Inaugural Address” and would have been presented in an entirely different context. Iyer wrote his essay to explain how he identifies as a certain type of person, the flighty and somewhat apathetic tendencies of that type of person, and the temptations to which they might succumb as a result of the lack of permanence that characterizes their living habits. Biden’s, however, was a call for unity in what he described as “an uncivil war that pits…conservative versus liberal” (Biden). His goal was to address the ever-growing political and ideological gap that divided Americans, and, instead of adding to the schism, spur American citizens into closing it up entirely. 

Considering the vastly different purposes of these works of non-fiction, it necessarily follows that there are many differences between the two regarding the use of rhetorical devices, specifically in respect to the use of allusions, variety of sentence structure, and a difference in overall tone. In his essay, Iyer uses allusions sparingly, and when used, are confined to references in either pop culture or history, such as when he mentions Tiananmen Square (Iyer 202). The overall impact of these few allusions is minimal as they often do not relate directly to the message of his essay, but rather, are used to explain more fully a smaller concept within the overall theme. Biden, however, utilizes allusions often enough and in such a way that they come to characterize his speech and affect the delivery of his words. In fact, on the very first page, he alludes to two separate events in the same sentence, the first of which was the attack on the United States Capitol that occurred some months prior, and the second of which was the famous phrase, “one nation, under God” from the pledge of allegiance (Biden). Unlike Iyer, his allusions range from historical to biblical to literary. This serves to give his speech more weight as he is referring to authorities outside of himself and his time period. 

The first point on which Iyer and Biden’s use of rhetorical devices differ is in regards to their use of sentence structure. In “Nowhere Man,” Iyer uses a variety of sentence structures, from the loose structure of  “We end up, then, a little like nonaligned nations, confirming our reservations at every step,” to the periodic structure of “Seasoned experts at dispassion, we are less good at involvement, or suspension of disbelief” (Iyer 202). Iyer uses this to keep his readers engaged and listening to his message. Biden, on the other hand, frequently repeats short, declarative statements in quick succession to give his argument weight and drive home his point. In overall tone, there is a significant difference between “Nowhere Man” and Biden’s “Inaugural Address,” and this is likely due to the clear and separate purpose between the two. While Iyer is contemplative and thoughtful in his essay, describing in detail the characteristics and struggles of his “entirely new breed of people,” Biden is more impassioned and direct, listing specifically what the United States has been in the past, what it is enduring now, and what must be done to solve the current dilemmas (Iyer 201). 

Despite these great differences, there are several similarities between the rhetorical devices Iyer and Biden utilize, namely repetition, antithesis, and shift. Iyer repeats the words “we” and “our” when describing the “transcontinental tribe of wanderers” with which he identifies (Iyer 201). This use of personal pronouns drives home the idea that Iyer’s personal experiences allow him to feel like he is a part of the community of people who are constantly traveling and never settling. In his speech, Biden uses the same repetition with personal pronouns such as “we” and “our” which, unlike Iyer, is used to convey the idea of unity that was central to Biden’s speech. 

As well as repetition, the two also use antithesis and contrasting ideas to make their points. In the final paragraphs of his essay, Iyer juxtaposes several ideas in order to further define the type of person that he identifies as, the first of which is action against inaction when he says, “Ours is the culpability not of the assassin, but of the bystander who takes a snapshot of the murder. or, when the revolution catches fire, hops the next plane out” (Iyer 202). He then later juxtaposes emotion and apathy when he describes the difference in how people like him and normal people behave in airports, which he describes as being “among the only sites in public life where emotions are hugely sanctioned” (Iyer 203). Through these contrasts, Iyer conveys that he and people like him are typically the apathetic ones who flee from situations of danger when presented with the opportunity. Similarly, Biden contrasts “red against blue, rural versus urban, conservative versus liberal,” which reflects the main division of the time period (Biden). He makes this contrast before furthering his point that the United States must overcome these differences and divisions to achieve unity. 

Regarding shift, the focus of Iyer’s essay shifts several times between paragraphs, though the overall purpose remains the same. Between the first and second paragraphs, the focus shifts from personal experiences to a general definition of people like him, and then goes on to shift to positive traits of said people between the third and fourth paragraphs, as well as positive to negative traits between the fourth and fifth paragraphs. This constant shifting of focus helps keep readers engaged, which allows his message to be delivered more effectively. Biden, on the other hand, shifts early on in his speech from a declarative tone, expressing the greatness of America’s history of democracy and all the current problems it is facing, to an imperative tone, enumerating the various ways that cultivating unity would solve those problems.

Coming from different backgrounds, living among differing circumstances, and writing for different purposes, Pico Iyer’s essay, “Nowhere Man,” and President Biden’s “Inaugural Address” both vary and coincide regarding which rhetorical devices they use. They are both, however, effective and concise in achieving the desired purpose of their respective work, separate though they may be. Intentional in their direction, they each speak to a different audience about the concerns that plague their minds. In doing so, they also offer insight into the nature of humanity, whether it is the violence of a D.C. riot or the apathy felt by those who struggle for a permanent home. 

Works Cited: Biden, Joseph. “Inaugural Address,” 2021 | Pico, Iyer. “‘Nowhere Man.’” Fifty Great Essays, by Robert J. Diyanni, Longman, 2014, pp. | 200–203.