Friday, May 20, 2011

Great Ends Make Good Beginnings, Too

Epistrophe is another effective rhetorical strategy, one that is opposite to anaphora whereby a writer opens a series of phrases or sentences with the same word. Writers who practice epistrophe use the same word at the end of a series of phrases or sentences. Both anaphora and epistrophe are strategies that effectively use repetition to emphasize and clarify.

A classic example of epistrophe, well known to most Americans, is from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address: "...and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.” With epistrophe (the words people) at the end of three prepositional phrases, Lincoln focuses attention upon the remarkable system of government for which men fought and died: democracy, a government that empowers ordinary citizens to shape their present and future.

Jack Nicholson as Colonel Nathan R. Jessup on the stand in A Few Good Men emphasizes his importance and justifies his decision to issue the Code Red command with words that contain epistrophe: “You have the luxury of not knowing what I know -- that Santiago's death, while tragic, probably saved lives, and my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives.” Clearly, Jessup believes the means to end one man’s life justifies an end that protects many lives.

John Steinbeck made powerful use of epistrophe in the final pages of his novel, The Grapes of Wrath. Tom Joad as the voice and spirit of a downtrodden brotherhood, determined to fight for the right to thrive, says, "Wherever they's a fight so hungry people can eat, I'll be there. Wherever they's a cop beatin' up a guy, I'll be there. . . . An' when our folk eat the stuff they raise an' live in the houses they build--why, I'll be there." Joad’s message and his conviction have power because Steinbeck elected to use epistrophe.

Ralph Waldo Emerson combined anaphora and epistrophe to invent a remarkable, memorable declaration: "What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny compared to what lies within us." Emerson begins three phrases with the words “what lies” and closes the same three phrases with “us.”

Reading Challenge:

Read President Barack Obama’s Inaugural Address (January 20, 2009) and Election Night Victory Speech (November 4, 2008) to discover many effective rhetorical strategies, including all those reviewed in recent posts: epistrophe, antithesis, and anaphora. You may read the full text of these speeches.

Writing Challenge:

Use the examples provided in this post to imitate the pattern and create passages that contain epistrophe. You may also wish to turn to your writing journals or essays to rewrite a passage, making it more effective and powerful with epistrophe.

Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics (GUM):

Select the passage spoken by Jack Nicholson in the film A Few Good Men. Follow the grammatical, syntactical patterns exactly in order to create your own message. Note the punctuation choices, the adverbial clauses (that begin with “while” and stand between the subject “death” and the verb “saves”), and the uses of anaphora as well as epistrophe. Post your attempts or as a comment on this blog.

Connye Griffin is the sole writer, editor, teacher, and coach for My Writing and Editing Coach.