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Rhetorical Analysis Essay Prompt: “Notes of a Native Son”

PLEASE NOTE: Before reading any further, please understand that this, and all rough drafts for this course, MUST be completed essays (meeting the minimum word count) in order to receive full points for the assignment. Partially completed drafts will result in partial credit (10pts vs. 20pts).

Assignment: You are to analyze James Baldwin’s essay “Notes of a Native Son,” identifying significant examples of ethos, pathos, and/or logos he uses, and explaining how each appeal he makes either strengthens or weakens the argument being made to his target audience. This is a large chunk of text to analyze, so the first thing you need to do, before writing, is determine who Baldwin’s audience is, and what the thesis of his essay is. Once you know those things, you’ll be able to organize your paper from there.

PLEASE NOTE: This is NOT an essay in which you explain why you agree or disagree with Baldwin’s argument; the objective for this assignment is to remain unbiased in your rhetorical analysis.

Procedure: This is not an argumentative essay or a research project. Rhetorical analysis has specific objectives, so please keep the following in mind when working on this assignment:

  • Intro Paragraph: Give a short summary of the selected text, and introduce speaker / author, audience, and the thesis of the text. Intro paragraph will end with your own thesis statement.
  • Body Paragraphs: The body of your essay should analyze several of the significant appeals Baldwin makes to persuade his audience. In part, your grade will be based on 1) how accurately you identify key appeals in the selected text, 2) how well you explain your process of identifying each appeal, and 3) how well you explain how each appeal strengthens or weakens his argument. Each body paragraph should focus on a different appeal from the previous paragraph. If a passage from the text makes multiple appeals that you wish to discuss and analyze, you may cite the same passage in more than one body paragraph. Body paragraphs should be organized either chronologically (the order in which the appeals appear in the text) or emphatically (least persuasive to most persuasive, or vice versa). In each body paragraph:
    • Identify one appeal the speaker makes and state, as specifically as you can, how the appeal either strengthens or weakens their argument.
    • Present and cite the passage (usually no more than a couple sentences) from the selected text where the appeal in question is made. Use MLA format to cite the passage correctly.
    • Identify which specific and smaller part(s) of the cited passage (such as words, phrases, etc.) put the appeal into action and explain how. Your explanation should fit the definition of the appeal. Use key words like “emotion” or “feel” for pathos, “credibility” or “credentials” for ethos, and “logic” or “reasoning” for logos.
    • Explain how the speaker’s use of the appeal in question either makes their thesis more persuasive to their target audience (strengthens) or less persuasive (weakens).
  • Conclusion Paragraph: 3-5 sentences offering a brief summary of your main points, and your final thoughts on the subject.

Please watch the following video for any clarification:


  1. 1,000-1,500 words. No Works Cited page is needed, but MLA format must be used for in-text citations.
  2. The only source you will be allowed to use for this essay is Baldwin’s essay. No other sources allowed.
  3. This essay must have college level grammar, spelling, and punctuation, and should avoid any awkward phrasing.
  4. This essay should have nearly flawless MLA formatting, including font, margins, page numbers, in-text citations, and the Works Cited page. Please use the Purdue OWL web site for correct formatting.
  5. When submitting this essay online, it MUST be submitted in either DOCX or PDF format.

The successful paper will do the following:

  • Include a well-defined thesis statement in the introduction
  • Have well organized body paragraphs that stick to the structure discussed in class (Topic Statement, Context, Evidence, Analysis, and Transition)
  • Come to a conclusion that moves beyond summary

Please Do NOT:

  • Use quotes that are longer than 4 lines – No Block Quotes Please.

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