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scarlet ibis

Explain the pathos evoked by this quotation from "The Scarlet Ibis": "We never spoke...but I knew he was watching me, watching for a sign for mercy."


The author's use of the pathetic appeal (pathos) works in two ways.  First, the quotation above represents Doodle's use of pathos toward Brother.  Doodle is too proud to ask for help or mercy, but he appeals to Brother with his eyes. He knows that Brother is not very sympathetic, especially when it comes to spoken cries for help, but the unspoken plea issued by Doodle has more effect and left such a last impression on Brother that as the story's older narrator years later, he still remembers the look.

Secondly, James Hurst employs pathos throughout the story, including in this quotation, to appeal to his readers' emotions.  Of the three rhetorical appeals, Hurst relies on pathos more than logos and ethos. What is interesting is that Brother would have been more moved (as a boy) by an ethical appeal (an appeal to duty, morals, or obligation), but Doodle is a truly sympathetic character who communicates through emotion; so he uses what he knows best. 

Whenever my students study this story, they finish it with comments such as, "it's so sad"; "I can't believe that Brother could be so cruel!" or "I'm depressed now."  These comments demonstrate that Hurst's use of pathos is powerful and memorable.

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