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Elie Wiesel and Malala Yousafzai



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    The Nobel Prize in Literature of 1986 was awarded to Elie Wiesel for his book Night, a memoir of his time in concentration camps during the Holocaust. His acceptance speech was intended to ensure that the events of the Holocaust were not echoed in the future; that no human being would be subjected to the same humiliation and torment that he was. Malala Yousafzai was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014 for her struggle against suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education. In her acceptance speech, Yousafzai shows great knowledge about the subject, and through touching stories and comments on the assassination attempt by the Taliban, she reaches out to people from all over the world. Through the use of rhetorical appeals and techniques, both authors manage to get their messages across.

    Wiesel subtly influences his audience to feel the agony that he felt during the events of the Holocaust, and the pain that he still feels today over losing so many important people in his life. This is due to his use of pathos throughout the speech, and he addresses that, “No one may speak for the dead, no one may interpret their mutilated dreams and visions.” Wiesel understands that his speech can only honor the individuals who lost their lives in the torturous concentration camps, but he can’t speak on their behalf. He goes on to say that he still feels the presence of the people he lost, “The presence of my parents, that of my little sister. The presence of my teachers, my friends, my companions.” Wiesel wanted the public to know that the dead are still with them all today, “… that the world did know and remained silent.” Wiesel makes it a point to connect to his audience on a personal level.

    He gets his listeners to consider what it would be like to lose their own friends and family to something so morally wrong and not have anything done about it. Once his listeners imagine themselves in Wiesel’s shoes, they feel inspired by his words to take a stand and do something about the future. Using repetition of words, Wiesel can emphasize how important this tragedy is and that people cannot ignore what happened, “Because if we forget, we are guilty. We are accomplices.” The recurrence of words drills into everyone’s mind how meaningful this is. He emphasizes the use of “we” to create a feeling of unity and to bring the world together to fix future problems and to look back and learn from the past. Rhetorical devices are used frequently throughout.

    Wiesel uses anaphora in his retelling, stating, “I remember his bewilderment, I remember his anguish.” Rather than combining these words into one sentence, he divides the feelings into two and repeats the beginning expression to emphasize the feelings he had on being forced from his home. The anaphora also lengthens the anecdote, allowing for the audience to reflect on his emotions and establish empathy for Wiesel as well as others in the concentration camps.

    When Wiesel discusses the Holocaust and the camps, he does not directly state the words. Instead, his diction is composed of words and phrases that have far clearer connotation as in, “the Kingdom of Night”. Night has an implied feeling of hopelessness and represents the end, so it infuses his speech with more emotion than simply stating “a concentration camp”. Wiesel uses rhetorical devices and appeals to hold up the central idea that the persecution of individuals for political views, race, gender, and religion must be confronted. His speech uses heavy amounts of emotion and is strengthened by the credibility that he has as someone who had experienced life, confined and tortured in a concentration camp.

    Like Wiesel, Malala Yousafzai brings attention to the suffering of people like her, but in a more recent setting. Yousafzai uses ethos when speaking briefly on her experiences, ‘Some people call me the girl who was shot by the Taliban. And some, the girl who fought for her rights. Some people, call me a ‘Nobel Laureate’ now.’ Yousafzai expands on her personal experience in an attempt to present herself as a reliable source. She continues her speech by saying, ‘However, my brothers still call me that annoying bossy sister. As far as I know, I am just a committed and even stubborn person who wants to see every child getting quality education (…)’. Through this, she shows off a more “relatable” persona to the audience which makes it easier for them to connect with her. Tying in with ethos, active voice is present throughout Yousafzai’s speech. Using active voice persuades the audience to be a part of her movement.

    She says, “Let us become the first generation that decides to be the last that sees empty classrooms, lost childhoods, and wasted childhoods.” Her active voice gives her credibility, and allows the speech to be effective. “I am not a lone voice, I am not a lone voice, I am many” Yousafzai gives herself credibility because of her humble nature. She does not think of herself, but rather all the young girls. The fact that she risks her life for the cause, along with her leadership, gives her the greatest credibility, all because of her use of active voice. The second rhetorical mode of appeal Yousafzai uses is pathos.

    She uses pathos frequently in her speech by speaking with sentiment, using vivid language and using a varied tone of voice. She also tells a few stories, from her own life and from others who have been in similar situations. In these retellings she states, ‘I had two options. One was to remain silent and wait to be killed. And the second was to speak up and be killed. I chose the second one. I decided to speak up.’ She uses “killed” to express the severity of her past plight, expressing it with an anger that would make any audience immediately feel sympathy for her.

    Lastly, Yousafzai uses logos in order to to support her statements, through facts and logical arguments. She describes a past experience and then supports it with facts, ‘When I was in Swat, which was just a place of tourism and beauty, suddenly changed into a place of terrorism. I was just ten that more than 400 schools were destroyed. Women were flogged. People were killed. (…)’ Along with this, Yousafzai uses strong diction and word choice throughout her speech to add stronger feelings and emphasis behind her words. This adds to her use of pathos. For example, Yousafzai mentions in her speech, “We had a thirst for education, we had a thirst for education because our future was right there in the classroom.”

    Her word choice suggests that she and other young girls in her class were ready to learn. They want to have a successful future, rather than ending up as a housewife. She’s also suggesting that she will be the one who will raise the voices of girls who are deprived of their rights to education because of her use of “we” rather than “I”. She wants to help the girls who strive for a good education, and not just herself. Yousafzai says, “This award is not just for me. It is for those forgotten children who want education. It is for those frightened children who want peace.

    It is for those voiceless children that want change” Yousafzai’s selfless attitude proves to an audience that she will continue to fight for the rights of girls and all children who have been deprived of an education. Her language is effective in her speech because she appeals to the audience’s emotions and encouraging them to join her movement.In both of their Nobel Prize acceptance speeches, Elie Wiesel and Malala Yousafzai bring awareness to their issues, and to the suffering of others. They accomplish this by employing the three rhetorical techniques of appeal, ethos, pathos and logos, along with a variety of literary devices, with pathos being the predominant appeal utilized in both. Without these rhetoric appeals, speeches like Malala Yousafzai’s and Elie Wiesel’s wouldn’t be effective, and would not drive audiences to take a stand for what they believe in.

    Elie Wiesel and Malala Yousafzai. (2021, Aug 30). Retrieved from

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