Narration and Logos, Pathos and Ethos

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Narration and Logos, Pathos and Ethos

  • Developmental writing students make important strides learning to write narration before beginning argumentation.
  • Rhetoric—the crafting of persuasion—can be developed through narrative techniques.
  • Narrative was once intricately woven through rhetoric, but became disentangled as technical logic separated from rhetorical logic.
  • Today narration is making a come-back. Narrative theory has expanded the definition of narration and has shown its effectiveness in a variety of disciplines.

Narration and Logos

  • According to Aristotle, logos, appeal to reason, can be developed through enthymeme, maxim and example.
  • Story is a natural vehicle for enthymeme—narrated events can lead the listener to an unstated conclusion or moral, inviting the audience to write “the rest of the story.”
  • Maxims, wise sayings, are often the concluding statements to fables and stories.
  • Examples give the rhetor the opportunity to recount past facts, use parallel illustrations (speculation), and fable to demonstrate a particular instance of a general concern (Aristotle again).
  • Examples are the most common support my students use for argument, and by learning to write a detailed, well-crafted story (true, speculative or made-up), they have the confidence to use examples in their essays.

Example of Developing Logos through Narration

  • From FDR’s “War Message,” Dec. 8, 1941—story of “true facts”
  • Yesterday, December 7th, 1941 -- a date which will live in infamy -- the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.
  • The United States was at peace with that nation and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with its government and its emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific.
  • Indeed, one hour after Japanese air squadrons had commenced bombing in the American island of Oahu, the Japanese ambassador to the United States and his colleague delivered to our Secretary of State a formal reply to a recent American message. And while this reply stated that it seemed useless to continue the existing diplomatic negotiations, it contained no threat or hint of war or of armed attack.

Narration and Pathos

  • Appeal to emotion, pathos, can be more influential than logos (Cicero).
  • Pathos can help the speaker establish identification with the audience (Burke).
  • Connecting with values common to the audience can be achieved through pathos.
  • Narration is a useful tool in shaping pathos.
  • Introductory stories say to the audience, “I’m like you.”
  • Stories can be used to give the audience a picture of a particular need (a hungry child that needs to be fed), tapping into common values and inviting response.

Example of Developing Pathos through Narration

  • Harper Lee accomplishes identification with her characters in To Kill a Mockingbird, showing the audience “that the black characters in the books were people just like them” (Kuypers 138).
  • Many speakers use an opening story to say just that: “I might look different, come from a different country or culture, vote for a different political party, but we have this in common. . .”
  • A story about the death of an innocent child or the horrors of the Holocaust can tap into our emotional nature in a way that statistical data and other forms of argument cannot do” (138).

Narration and Ethos

  • Ethos, the writer’s character and credibility, are essential for audience reception.
  • Quintilian’s insistence that an orator is a good man speaking well places importance on the moral character and credibility of the rhetor.
  • Ethos can be established through narration, as many speakers and companies rely on a narrative account of events to show how they arrived at their present conclusion, or to describe how they fought a fair fight, produced a better product, or overcame a difficulty.

Example of Developing Ethos through Narration

  • Recent commercials by Bausch and Lomb tell how they discovered the problem with their contact solution, responded quickly to the problem, pulled the product, and developed a new and safer contact solution for the public. Through story, this company is trying to re-establish their credibility with their customers.


  • As human beings, we are natural story-tellers and story-consumers. Learning to test and develop persuasive abilities through narration teaches students important lessons about logos, pathos and ethos in their writing.

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