In David Foster Wallace’s graduation speech, “This is Water”, presented to Kenyan College’s graduating class of 2005, Wallace persuades the class to view the world as whole instead of individually. Wallace argues that we should not feel as if the world revolves around only our needs but also the needs of others but he makes a point to state that everyone has a choice of how to view the world.
His argument is obvious but commonly overlooked by many. Through his personal experiences and his examples provided in the speech, all three rhetorical appeals, ethos, logos and pathos, are used but he argues mostly through the use of pathos.
David Foster Wallace establishes his creditability through his use of ethos and makes it clear he does not want to preach or oversee the reader. He simply does not want the reader to think that we are listening to someone who holds a higher authority than the average person. In the beginning of the essay, after he tells the story of the two young fish who do not know what water is, he states, “if at this moment, you’re worried that I plan to present myself here as the wise old fish explaining what water is to you younger fish, please do not be.”
In order to keep the reader interested, he does not want to seem like an opposing bossy figure to the reader by seemingly just telling us what to do. He places himself at a lower level and points out his flaws to make himself seem just as human as the rest of us. For example, Wallace bluntly admits his flaws when he says, “A huge percentage of stuff I tend to be automatically certain of is, it turns out, totally wrong and deluded.”
This Humility that Wallace provides in the essay, helps to show the reader he does want to be someone who he is not. He acknowledges he is not perfect and has gathered the information he is about to present from his past personal experiences, mistakes, and thoughts.
In the essay, Wallace also uses logos to help build upon his argument. He uses a logical approach to show people that they have a choice of how to look at the world. He proves that any body can choose how to act when he states, “Look, if I choose to think this way […] to be a choice.” He argues that people should be reasonable with others instead of viewing others as in their way
The way the world is viewed is often centered on somebody, material goods, or money but the individual ultimately decides whether to view the world like this or not. One of the only truths Wallace states in the essay is “that that you get to decide how you’re going to try to see it. You get the consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t. You get to decide what to worship . . .”
He logically views world as choice and wants the reader to do the same. Even though the use of logic in this essay is not used much he provides us with this reasonable and logic approach of how we should live.
Wallace’s argument is especially built upon the use of pathos in the essay. Pathos is the most effective appeal in the essay used to pull at our hearts. He makes it clear that he wants us to make a good habit out of “being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day.” We simply should try to find the good things and life and look at all situations through a positive view.
In one particular example he uses in the essay, Wallace brings up a situation where he is stuck in a traffic jam and he is cut off by a car. This makes Wallace angry at the time when the car got in his way but when he reflects on the situation he states’ “ maybe being driven by a father whose little child is hurt or sick in the seat next to him, and he’s trying to rush to the hospital, and he’s in a way bigger, more legitimate hurry than I am.”
In this example, he views the situation in a positive light as if he was helping the car by letting them cut in front him so his son could seek medical care. It is the small personal examples, like this one, Wallace uses in his essay to help persuade the reader to choose a better way of life.
Through all three uses of appeals David Foster Wallace successfully presents his argument in his essay “This is Water”. His argument is clear that he wants us to view the world with others’ needs included, not just the individuals needs. It should not only be viewed centered around an individual. It is often over looked but it is something that should not be. The way he persuades the reader is especially used through the use of pathos in personal situations.
Very strong emotions are used to persuade the reader to do so. The essay effectively impacts both the judgment and optimism of the reader. It makes the reader look further and assess the judgment of someone based off of their life rather then judging someone off of a quick glance. The essay also helps the reader to look at situations through a positive point of view instead dwelling on negatives in every situation.
The choice that Wallace gives us often over looked because often people automatically decide to make choices on the spot rather than looking for a deeper meaning.