Tuesday, February 14, 2012

"Common Sense" Literary Devices

       It is undeniable that Thomas Paine's "Common Sense" is one of the most influential documents ever published. So many of his ideas form the foundation of what it means to be an American. His work opened the eyes and minds of the American people to the liberal idea of declaring independence, dramatically changing the future of the country. With ideas in which the risk equaled the reward, he had to have done something right with his writing to convince the American people that independence was worth a shot. I wondered what exactly that was. Was there a certain way he worded his document that caused the huge impact? Did he use literary devices to persuade, or did his message do that on its own?
      The first thing I noticed about the way in which the pamphlet was written is the simple writing. Paine did not write to impress important scholars and leaders of the time. He wrote to reach the American public as a whole, mustering all the support he could get. (http://www.ushistory.org/paine/commonsense/) He wanted to grab the attention of the people at the heart of the cause.
       The first paragraph of the writing really caught my attention because of the way he admitted that action on account of his idea might be premature. However, he turns this around by saying "...a long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives it a superficial appearance of being right, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defence (defense) of custom. But the tumult soon subsides. Time makes more converts than reason." This sentence serves the purpose of telling the people that his idea is one of the future, and that eventually people will realize how they have been wronged. It is a known fact that people love to be right. Even today, everyone wants to claim they liked a band before they were mainstream, or liked an actor before they were really popular. The same idea can be applied to political ideas. People at the time may not have wanted to be seen as the "last ones to the party" so to speak, therefore they could have bought into Paine's ideas hoping they wouldn't be left behind.
       Countless times in his work, Paine uses an appeal to logos. The title itself makes this so obvious. "Common Sense" infers that it is without question. Anyone who believes America has a bright future under the rule of Britain has no common sense. He says "In the following pages I offer nothing more than simple facts, plain arguments, and common sense..." in Thoughts on the Present State of American Affairs. He also uses understatements as examples of the faulty logic that tories had. An example of this is "We may as well assert that because a child has thrived upon milk, that it is never to have meat, or that the first twenty years of our lives is to become a precedent for the next twenty." It is obvious that those statements are not true, so he is hoping people will see the reasoning to stay with Britain as illogical.
        Something that I thought was odd about this document was the Biblical references Paine used to make his point and reach his audience. Paine goes into great detail about his skeptical thoughts on Christianity in other writings, and actually denounced the religion after listening to one of his father's sermons. (http://socyberty.com/history/rhetorical-analysis-of-paines-common-sense/) Though religion was not seen as very important in Paine's life, it was important in the life of the American people. This was something Paine used to appeal to their moral beliefs, somewhat convincing them that freedom is what God wanted for America.

Picture 1: http://nataliecopuroglu.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/only_common_sense.jpg
Picture 2: http://www.americanmanufacturing.org/files/american-flag.jpg
Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zgce_ai9nQQ

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