Are You Convinced?

The questions that naturally follow the readings for this week are simple. Is the story told by Sarah Burns in The Central Park Five engaging and is it convincing? To a certain degree, the answers are arguable–and of course, mightn’t that be the point when dealing with rhetoric. It is easy for us to imagine how readers with different prejudices and experiences might come away with different readings. Alternately, if the rhetoric is good (whatever exactly that means), mightn’t it be enough to overcome these prejudices and experiences and have some unifying affect on the readers?

In any case, I think the question of whether The Central Park Five constitutes an engaging narrative is the easier question to address. Of the techniques suggested in the reading from Bill Nichols, I think the key on to clue in on here is the use of existing motivations and conceptions to build and move a narrative. We see Burns do this repeatedly, if subtly. In the opening to the third chapter of the book, Burns offers a snapshot of the life of Trisha Meili, the victim of the horrifying assault. This plays into our pre-conceived notions by depicting a raw, human, and tragic part of the story. No matter what your prejudices, you can probably latch onto Meili’s part in the story to some extent.

While specific techniques can be pointed to in order to show examples of an engaging narrative, it is more difficult to accurately quantify how convincing a narrative is–any narrative. I would argue that Burns is convincing. Burns cultivates a persona that is seems trusting and relatively unbiased. There is some editorializing, but most of it is subtle–set within statements of fact. In this way Burns can guide a reader towards an opinion gently. The process is not unlike learning a language by immersion. And ultimately, the fact that Burns has a point of view may be ancillary to the facts. The result of rhetoric that is sober, lucid, and direct.

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