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Why “What is Poverty?” Makes the Reader Uncomfortable
What does it mean to be poor? Jo Goodwin Parker’s article, “What is Poverty?”, summarizes her ideas of the true definition of poverty. The article is harsh and direct and can actually make the reader uncomfortable while reading it. Parker’s stern and caustic tone throughout the article makes her seem angry at the reader. Parker’s content is extremely graphic and too personal for the reader. Though her ethical appeal and logical appeal are extremely weak, her emotional appeal is excessively strong. Parker directs this article at the reader and attacks the reader’s emotions through her harsh tone, graphic content, and lack of rhetorical appeal.
Parker’s tone throughout the article causes the reader to feel many different emotions. She begins the article with a stern, harsh tone by demanding, “You ask me what is poverty? Listen to me”(467). The tone is too direct to the reader, causing the reader to feel uncomfortable from the very beginning. Then, her tone starts making the reader feel guilty. Parker uses the phrase, “You say in your clean clothes coming from your clean house, ‘Anybody can be clean’”(468). This phrase not only is too direct, but it makes the reader feel guilty for having the opportunity to be clean when we all know that she does not have the same opportunities. The reader also feels guilty when Parker tells stories about her children. She says, “My children have no extra books, no magazines, no extra pencils, or crayons, or paper and the most important of all, they do not have health.”(468) The reader cannot help but to feel guilty for her children because most people have all of these commodities. Parker also possesses an angry tone. She describes poverty as “acid that drips on pride until pride is worn away” (470). Her tone here is angry because she is indignant that poverty might be destroying her life. When she says, “Can you be silent too?” (470) it seems like she is mad at the reader. She wants the reader to do something about poverty instead of being “silent” (470). By using her harsh and guilty tone, Parker makes the reader feel quite uncomfortable.
Not only does Parker’s tone make the reader feel uncomfortable, but the content of the article does also. A lot of Parker’s content is extremely graphic for the reader. She begins the article by complaining “Here I am, dirty, smelly, and with no ‘proper’ underwear on and with the stench of my rotting teeth near you” (467). This sentence is very graphic and realistic and does not pull the reader into the article. Some of Parker’s content is not only graphic but unnecessary. She says, “I came home to find the baby covered with fly specks, and a diaper that had not been changed since I left. When the dried diaper came off, bits of my baby’s flesh came with it” (468). Parker uses another extremely graphic phrase when she talks about her children’s health by proclaiming, “They have worms, they have infections, they have pinkeye all summer” (470). The reader begins to get to know Parker too well and starts invading her personal space. At the beginning of the article, Parker tells the reader not to pity her, yet she complains throughout the whole article. Her constant complaining and negative attitude makes the reader pity her even though she tells them otherwise. Parker’s content also creates disturbing images of the nature of poverty. She begins every paragraph with a different
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image of poverty such as “Poverty is dirt”(468), “poverty is living in a smell that never leaves”(467), and “poverty is looking into a black future”(46). These are all disturbing phrases that make the reader feel uncomfortable.
In addition to her tone and content, Parker’s lack of rhetorical appeal also makes the reader feel uncomfortable. Parker lacks on her ethical appeal which makes the article seem one-sided. Yes, she experienced poverty, but the reader cannot really trust her because her personal experiences might be slightly exaggerated. Parker might not be telling the whole picture. If Parker had used more logical appeal, it would have greatly benefited her ethical appeal. If she had more facts about poverty, the reader could have trusted her more and believed that the article is not just one-sided. Parker lacks in ethical and logical appeal, but she uses too much emotional appeal. She utilizes so much emotional appeal that it actually makes the reader angry. Her excess use of emotional appeal causes too many emotions in the reader. The reader feels pity, guilt, anger, and sadness all in this one article.
By using a stern tone, harsh images, and rhetorical appeal, Parker arouses too many of the readers’ emotions. Parker does an excellent job of engaging the reader, but she is a little extreme in places making the reader feel uncomfortable while reading the article. Her tone is overly confrontational and attacks the reader in a negative way. Her content creates too many harsh images of her experience in a life of poverty. The excessive amount of emotional appeal also makes the reader uncomfortable. If Parker would have used more logical appeal, she could have proven that her article was not one-sided. Everyone in life has a series of choices, but through this article one can tell that
Parker did not think that to be true. Instead of trying to turn her life around, she complains about her entire life. This constant complaining annoys the reader and makes the reader even more uncomfortable. Parker’s article makes the reader feel guilty and makes one almost wonder if she is telling the entire truth. From the first sentence to the last sentence, Parker attacks and confronts the reader in a negative way.
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