Letters to My Son are letters written by Lord Chesterfield to his son whereby he praises and criticizes him. Chesterfield uses a number of literary devices in his letter such as metaphors, imageries, anastrophe, tonal shift and many others. In addition, Chesterfield uses rhetorical devices such as logos and name calling so that his son can heed to his advice. Chesterfield uses different tones, and language devices to make pass his intended information to his son. He changes his tone, and uses different language styles to be able to convince his son to follow the values, and advice in the letter written to him. In the end, through his language skills and tonal values, he is able to convey his message to his son which is meant to elevate him above all, and become an independent person. Chesterfield is suggestive and condescending in his language, and tone in the letter but his views are very clearly articulated.
Metaphors are used by Chesterfield, whereby he uses them to portray his son’s values. Chesterfield builds his son up, and provides all the obstacles that could come into his life in the near future. He takes his time to warn his son about the problems, and struggles that he is to face in the future through a metaphor where he says, “thorns and briars which scratched and disfigured me in the course of my youth” (Stanhope 91). He refers to these problems as thorns and briars. He was frightened that his son was going to make the same mistakes he made while he was a youth and so, he had to warn him in advance of what awaits him. He uses metaphors in his warnings just to emphasize his points. Later on, in his warnings to his son; Chesterfield also uses anastrophe in contradicting his points. He uses anastrophe as an understatement which minimizes what really will transpire.
Another literary device frequently used by Chesterfield is tonal shift. In the start of his letter, he uses an honest, fatherly, candor, and caring tone to his son. Afterwards, his tone changes immediately to authoritative, scolding, and belligerent tone whereby he lectures, and ridicules his son. He praises his son at the same time accusing him, and this shifts his tone in the letters. Chesterfield writes, “But then, on the other hand, I flatter myself, that as your own reason, though too young as yet to suggest much to you of itself, is however, strong enough to enable you” ( Chesterfield 89). In using tonal shift, he emphasizes his lordship over his son. He parades his values and parental guidance to his son, and shows the reader that the son cannot do anything without him, and his advice. His tonal shift changes him from a caring father, to an authoritative father who is imposing his values to his son through threats. He says to his son, “your shame and regret must be greater than anybody’s” (Chesterfield 176). Chesterfield makes it clear to his son that, he survive because of him. He uses this tone so as to provoke his son to work harder in his education, and stop depending on him and to avoid the shame his father is talking about in his words.
Chesterfield uses litotes, a pedantic tone and hint of a patronizing tone while he attempts to convince his son into heeding his advice in the letter. He wants his son to follow his advice in the letter, and so he uses a condescending tone whereby he warns him that failure is not an option because it will bring humiliations and so, he has no choice other than following his advice. Chesterfield uses litotes to make it seem that he was not forcing his advice upon his son, but was just offering it as a kind, and loving father who cares for his son, and wants the best out of him. Chesterfield says "I know how unwelcome advice generally is; I know that those who want it most like it and follow it least"(Stanhope181). He was trying to understate his authority over his son, but this is just a way of trying to convince him to follow his advice, and not to think that he is forcing it on him. Additionally, he uses litotes where he notes that he flatters himself believing that his son will follow his advice in the letters. This is just a way to provoke his son to follow his advice to the latter.
The use of a pedantic and condescending tone can be seen where Chesterfield attempts to assert authority over his son. He gives an example of himself where he says "those thorns and briars which scratched and disfigured me in the course of mine" (Chesterfield 78). He wants his son to believe that he also was in his position, and has experienced what he is experiencing now but he came out successful. He makes his son know how dependent he was on him by telling him that he has nothing apart from what he gets from him, and through his tone, he wants to convince his son to work harder, and stop depending on him. He uses a condescending tone to make his son realize how dependent he is on him, and why he should work hard in order to stop being dependent on his father. Moreover, Chesterfield expresses the values he expects from his son through condescension. In his condescending tone, he tells his son that his shame will be greater than anyone else’s because, he has given him many opportunities including education, and he is still dependent on him. He implicates that his son is very lucky that he had a good upbringing, and has a chance to education and so; he should really work hard and excel in all aspects because he has everything he needs from his father. He writes in disdain that his son is like a disgrace because he has an opportunity to excel but he is not using it. Also, he is not carrying himself in a manner that is befitting his excellent opportunities and upbringing but just being dependent on his father for everything instead of working hard to get them.
Chesterfield uses logos in his language to reach to his son. He says, “I do not hint these things to you, because I am convinced that you will act right” (Chesterfield 248). He uses logic while reaching out to his son knowing that his son is a human being, and he does not need to do everything he says. Moreover, through the use of logos, Chesterfield wants his son to find a way to put his life order and strive for what he needs. He wants his son to learn to grow up, and stop depending on him. Chesterfield writes, "how absolutely dependent you are upon me; that you neither have, nor can have a shilling in the world but from me" (Stanhope 208). This is logical and a challenge to his son that he should not continue depending on him on the things he is unable to get. Through this language, Chesterfield wants his son to grow up, and start working hard towards the things he needs instead of asking the father for them. Through his language, he wants the son to learn to be independent and stable in his near future as a grown up man. He doses not a want a son who will keep on coming back to his father to ask for money and other stuff.
In his language, Chesterfield uses name calling in his letter. He says, "I know, too, that the advice of parents, more particularly, is ascribed to the moroseness, the imperiousness, also, "strong enough to enable you, both to judge of, and receive plain truths" (Chesterfield 180). Through these words, he is trying to tell his son that, he can get good advice from parents, but on the other hand, he is supposed to choose what is of help to him, and work on attaining what he wants in life. Moreover, Chesterfield uses an argumentative appeal in his language (Sayle 67). Through the argumentative appeal, he is just trying to prove to his son that he is not dictating because he is the father, but just giving advice on what is to be done. He tells his son, “let my experience supply your want” (Chesterfield 262). He wants him to believe that he wants the best for him, and that is why he is writing the letter to him.
In the last paragraphs of his letter, he tells his son that he must use the education he has received to become a better, and independent person. He says, “Can there be a greater pleasure than to be universally allowed to excel?”(Stanhope 304). In addition, he also warns his son through his language where he says, “To know a little of anything gives neither satisfaction nor credit” (Chesterfield 102). His tone here changes completely from his initial words because he shows his soon through his stern voice that this is a serious matter that should be taken seriously too by him.
In conclusion, Chesterfield uses a number of literary devices especially in his tone, and his language in his letter to his son. Chesterfield masters the use of humble concessions, contradictory language, indirect threats, subliminal messages in diction, and demoralizing lectures just to impose his lectures, advice, and values to his son. He reflects on the values he has acquired, and tries to impose them on his son. His language is very tricky because he knows exactly what to say to his son, and at what time in order to get through him. He started his letter with a humble tone, but later on changed his tone into a threatening, and authoritative one as a father who is in control. Chesterfield’s tone starts of with fatherly love and care but later on, comes off as condescending and haughty in the end. He shares his life issues before he became who he is with his son just to convince him to work hard, and excel. Chesterfield used his language skills to be able to pass his values to his son, and provoke him to work hard. The purpose of the letter was that his son should strive for nothing, but the best and be independent on his own other than being dependent on his father for the things he could not accomplish.
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