Short Story “Birthday Party” Using Characterization and Rhetorical Elements Analysis

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For thousands of years, philosophers have been questioning the root of all evil. Some believed that humans were inherently evil, while others believed that humans were influenced by an outside factor to commit wicked deeds. Katharine Brush was of the latter group. Although she was not a philosopher, she offered her insight on what that outside factor might be in her short story, “Birthday Party.” Through the use of characterization and rhetorical elements, Brush demonstrated how the source of human cruelty is misjudgement.

To begin with, the personality of the characters changes throughout the story. In the exposition, the characters’ introductions are boring and bland. For example, “The man had a round, self-satisfied face, with glasses on it,” described the husband. Not only is the description dull, the manner in which they were described was also dull. However, this is still characterization and works to enhance the theme by showing the audience how before the incident, the husband is unassuming, simple, and most importantly, not cruel. By the end of the story, though, this changes. After his wife surprises him with the cake, his demeanor becomes more negative. In the instance where the narrator described the husband saying “some punishing thing, quick and curt and unkind” softly to his wife, the theme is demonstrated perfectly by the characterization through his action and the sudden darker tone. This is because the husband did something the audience and the other characters in story would consider as mean. He was ungrateful and lashed out at his wife, even though she was trying to make his special day even more special. However to further intensify the theme, Brush perfectly uses situational irony. In the final sentence of the story, Brush writes that the wife was “Crying quietly and heartbrokenly and hopelessly… under the gay big brim of her best hat.” Here, the term “gay” is defined as “happy,” which is ironic since she was crying out of sorrow. This final piece serves to emphasize the depth of the husband’s act of cruelty to her, no matter how small the audience interpreted it to be. All in all, a simple misjudgement caused more grief than it should have because it caused someone to act inhumanly.

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In conclusion, misjudgement is the root of human malevolence. This was demonstrated in Katharine Brush’s short story “Birthday Party” using characterization and rhetorical elements. First, the husband was characterized to be unassuming and have no hint of cruelty. Second, the husband was presented with a birthday cake and become indignant, which was established via his actions and a darker tone. Third, the wife, who planned the cake and “Happy Birthday” song, was described crying because of her husband’s verbal abuse. Because of a misunderstood action, the husband became cruel and ruined the entire mood; thus, the true root of all evil is misunderstanding.

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