Several literary authors and poets such as Langston Hughes, Emily Dickinson and Alma Luz Villanueva have explored the theme of knowledge and individual power with much the same conclusions. These writers have especially addressed this topic from the perspective that people are inherently different and thus have a very hard time conforming to societal standards and meeting other people’s expectations. In essence, most people seek to be the same as everyone else despite the fact that they are individuals, thus making them different and unique.
Langston Hughes in his poem, Theme for English B, presents a literary discourse on the concept of individual power from the perspective of an outsider who feels as though he does not quite fit in with the rest of the people around him. Hughes brings out this idea by subtly referencing to a relatively simple school assignment. It might appear that nothing could be simpler than being given an assignment to prepare a short treatise on a topic close to ones heart. Hughes finds it hard to reconcile the fact that he is of African American descent with the assignment that requires him to prepare a paper representing what is true for both him and the instructor. He eventually pens a simple poem that showcases how he also likes much the same things that other people of different racial and ethnic backgrounds also like.
Similarly, Emily Dickinson in her short poem, Much Madness is Divinest Sense, unequivocally addresses the topic of individual differences and uniqueness stating that sometimes what the majority subscribes to in the area of beliefs and expectations is indeed madness. She claims that much of what people see is either misconstrued or misleading in its entirety and it thus amounts to insanity when interpreted literally. She further presents the hardships that people sometimes face whenever they attempt to venture outside the prescribed societal norms and decide to embrace their individual uniqueness. She says that if these people attempt to take exception to what the majority deems normal and acceptable, in favor of their personal preferences and inclinations, they mostly end up shackled in chains like criminals.
The same is true for Alma Luz Villanueva and her poem, Crazy Courage. She presents the case of a woman, probably her own persona, who admires the courage of a cross-dresser. This cross-dresser faces a great deal of ridicule in his endeavors, which does not seem to faze him at all. He prefers to be himself despite what the majority of people think; he is prepared to take all the negative criticism and disapproval he gets in order to achieve this. Alma posits that it is much more difficult to be who you are if it goes against the proverbial social grain. She further hints that most people appear only as they pretend to be for the sake of social harmony. The cross-dresser indeed shows “crazy courage” when he attends his lectures as a man at one time and a woman the next.
These authors use a variety of rhetorical tools to get their hypotheses accepted by their target audiences. In the case of Langston Hughes, he uses several elements of logos to put his point across. He starts by stating that the task of harmonizing individual stories into one congruous literary presentation is not simple for it must take into account the fact that people are different; they have also been brought up in different settings and thus have different personal experiences. This then translates to different stories that cannot be harmonized as simply as, for instance, the English assignment required.
Emily Dickinson, on the other hand, uses a great deal of imagery and symbolism to make her case. For instance, she compares the idea that people can be standardized despite their inherent differences to madness. She also analogizes the plight of those who attempt to pursue different paths than those set by the society as being similar to the plight of prisoners and criminals; they are handled with shackles for their failure to conform.
Alma Luz Villanueva advances her claim using direct emotional appeals to which her audience can relate. For instance, she portrays the cross-dresser as being courageous, which is an admirable character trait. She also makes the case for freedom and how much the cross-dresser benefits from it by choosing to embrace his individual uniqueness as opposed to allowing himself to suffocate under unrealistic societal norms and expectations.
Personal Critique and Conclusion
The authors discussed above are indeed effective in making their cases regarding individual power and knowledge. Their respective choices of rhetorical tools and appeals work much to their benefit and help advance their main claims. For instance, Hughes’ use of logos takes the reader through the logical arguments against the idea of simply standardizing people’s stories given the fact that everyone is different. Similarly, Emily Dickinson’s use of imagery and symbolism helps her audience to develop a clear mental picture of how hard it is for people to venture outside the preset societal codes and standards. Finally, Alma also succeeds in getting her audience to identify with the cross-dresser, who is different than the rest of his social contacts, but chooses to embrace his individuality as opposed to attempting to fit in.