The Great Debaters is an extraordinary movie that was nominated for a Golden Globe Award. The movie fixates on four African American students on the debate team in Wiley College. Throughout the movie we encounter the students debate different colleges, and at the same time we see their individual lives, and how it affected their arguments. In the three main debates, Whiley College effectively used various methods to appeal to their audiences, and win the debates.
The best way to fight an argument is to use logic. Throughout the movie in all the debates, logic is used. By using statistics and facts the debaters were able to get their point across, the state is currently spending five times more for the education for a white child than it is fitting to educate a colored child. (56:40-56:47) Samantha also used logos when she said, 1918: The first U.S. soldiers decorated for bravery in France are Negroes Henry Johnson and Needham Roberts. (54:30-54:38) In Both of these quotes Samantha uses two facts to persuade the audience into thinking she has a valid argument.
Pathos was a heavily used persuasive method by the debaters. Throughout the movie we visually perceive how the lives of African Americans were arduous in the 1930’s, as well as the post-depression quandaries. So, the debaters utilized this as an efficacious method to emotionally persuade the audience. In the movie Henry states, the look in a mother’s face when she cannot feed her children. Can you look that hungry child in the eyes? (46:05- 46:15) By verbalizing about a mother having to optically discern her child hungry, he emotionally captures the audience. In the Harvard debate the Harvard debaters additionally used pathos,
Two hundred and forty brave young men were hurled into eternity every house, of every day, of every night, for four long years. Thirty-five thousand hours; eight million two hundred and eighty-one thousand casualties. Two hundred and forty. Two hundred and forty. To hundred and forty. (1:47:27-1:48:01) The debater reiterated the phrase “two hundred forty” to make his argument appeal to the audience emotionally. James contravened that by responding with his own emotional appeal,
My teammates and I saw a man strung up by his neck — and set on fire. We drove through a lynch mob, pressed our faces against the floorboard. I looked at my teammates. I saw the fear in their eyes; and worse — the shame. (1:53:02-1:53:37) James gave an example of the iniquities he witnessed, and how he felt as an African American. This caused the audience to feel sympathetic towards him, and it availed him to win the debate.
In the third and final debate James Farmer’s uses Ethos in his first argument; Civil disobedience is a moral weapon in the fight for justice. (1:45:33-1:45:36) He then went on with the story in India during 1919 when 10,000 people gathered to protest the tyranny of British rule. The general then commanded his troops to fire into the crowd killing 379 people, men, women, and children, which the general justified as a moral lesson. In contrast, he informed the audience with Gandhi’s non-violence movement, causing his arrest. He was later released, and they called it a moral victory. Concluding his argument, James says,
Dyer’s lesson or Gandhi’s victory? You choose. (1:46:50-1:46:54) The Harvard team argued that civil disobedience is not moral because it is non-violent. According to the speaker, Fighting for your country with violence can be deeply moral… (1:45:25-1:48:30) He opened his argument with the World War I. He gave numbers of the men, hours, and of casualties in the war, which was over 8 million. He stated that the war’s slaughter was greater than what happened in India. He continues by saying that nothing was moral about it but says that it stopped Germany from enslaving all of Europe. Samantha denies Harvard’s claim that civil disobedience true face was anarchy. She does this by informing the audience that Gandhi believed that lawbreakers must accept the legal consequences for their actions and asked if that sounded like anarchy. She humored the audience by relating one of Gandhi’s beliefs that one must always act with love and respect for one’s opponent, even if they are Harvard debaters. (1:49:05)
The audience applauded when she informed them that civil disobedience was an American concept and that Gandhi drew his inspiration from Henry David Thoreau, who was a Harvard graduate. Both teams appealed to Ethos. They delivered their arguments by informing them about a known man Gandhi. Their tones and body language strengthened their presentations. The questions within their arguments engaged their audience. Both the argument counterargument used crucial history to state their points and persuade the audience.
The rhetorical and literary devices in this movie for the arguments were utilized very commendably. In all three debates they both sides effectively used logos, pathos, and ethos to persuade the audience. Since they utilized these methods to their advantage, it was facile for them to appeal to the audience, and it availed them to win the debates.