A Descriptive Analysis Of Nigger:The Meaning Of A Word Essay, Research Paper
A Descriptive Analysis of “Nigger: The Meaning of a Word”
E. Jean Tarrant
26 February 2001
What is the rhetor’s purpose?
In the essay “Nigger: the meaning of a word” Gloria Naylor discusses the essence of a word and how it can mean different things to different people in a myriad of situations. Depending on race, gender, societal status and age Naylor outlines how a word like ‘nigger’ can have different meanings within one’s own environment. Naylor discusses how a word can go from having a positive to a negative connotation merely due to how it is spoken and by whom. Naylor shares a personal experience with her audience as she describes the first time she really “heard” the word ‘nigger’. A young white boy in her third grade class spit it in her face. Naylor states, “I didn’t know what a nigger was, but I knew that whatever it meant, it was something he shouldn’t have called me.” (Naylor 460)
Naylor writes about her own personal experience and is obviously biased. This, while powerful, can also be seen as a limited view of the subject. Her audience only understands thorough her eyes and her experiences.
Naylor is trying to educate her audience by sharing a personal experience. I think she wants her audience to sit back and think about the words they use and how others may use them and how this can affect others. Naylor wants her audience to understand how she was affected not only by a young boy but also by how she didn’t really think about the word ‘nigger’ until the moment it was used to hurt her. She is striving to make
her audience think about the words they use and hear and how the context these words are immersed in can change the meaning of them.
Who composes the target audiences?
To be a part of Naylor’s target audience one must have obviously had experience with language and how people use it. She is targeting those who have heard and/or used the word “nigger” before.
Naylor wants her audience to take on her experience and be empathetic towards her. She doesn’t do this in a seemingly pathetic way, as she seeks no pity. She outlines her experience and wants her audience to understand her view and how this view came to be.
What roles or personas does the rhetor assume?
Naylor assumes the role of an educator in her writing. She assumes a persona of a young girl experiencing a new way of understanding a word. Naylor wants her audience to understand how important the context in which a word is used is so she writes about her personal experience, of which she is the sole authority.
What it the rhetor’s tone?
Naylor assumes a matter of fact tone in her writing. She does not demand or
point her finger at any one group. She simply relays her experience in such a way that
you can’t help but think about what it must have been like for her as a young girl experiencing a new meaning of a word in such a way.
She does not take on a superior or subordinate tone; rather it is like she’s having a conversation with her audience as a peer. I find this very powerful because she achieves what she wants to in a subtle way. Naylor doesn’t lecture or blame she simply shares her experience.
How is the discourse structured?
The introduction is a frame for the rest of the writing to fill. Naylor discusses how language is the subject of her piece, and although the written word is what has kept her going throughout her life she still feels that the written word is inferior to the spoken. Her arguments in the introduction are clear and easily understood. She is portraying what how powerful she feels the spoken word to be. Naylor states, “Dialogue achieves its power in the dynamics of a fleeting moment of sight, sound, smell and touch.” (460) This helps the audience understand the power of a spoken word. Naylor takes the position that words either written or spoken don’t take on meaning until a consensus assigns one. Naylor states, “Words themselves are innocuous; it is the consensus that gives them true power.” (460) As a writer Naylor feels that the spoken word has a greater impact than the written word by stating, “…much of the frustration experienced by novelists is the
awareness that whatever we manage to capture in even the most transcendent passages falls far short of the richness of life.” (460) She introduces her audience to how powerful the spoken word can be which is what the rest of the piece is involved with.
Naylor uses a chronological organization in writing this piece. She starts with an experience as a young girl and then goes on to outline how her thoughts on the word ‘nigger’ evolved to become what they are today.
In her conclusion Naylor sums her point up nicely. She wants to bring about an awareness of how words can take on different meanings depending upon how they are used. She relays an example of how a word can take on an entirely new meaning and the fact that one may not really hear a word or take notice of it until it takes on that new meaning by stating, “There must have been dozens of times that the word ‘nigger’ was spoken in front of me before I reached the third grade. But I didn’t “hear” it until it was said by a small pair of lips that had already learned it could be a way to humiliate me.” (462)
Naylor creates a conversational atmosphere where her ideas flow together nicely in a chronological manner. She develops a smooth relationship between her ideas in this way.
What kinds of supporting materials are used?
Naylor uses personal experience as her evidence. She uses a conversational tone that adapts nicely to the audience. I say this because draws the reader in and he or she easily understands and accepts her experience. Naylor uses her experience to exemplify her point and to offer validity. One is drawn in by her experience as a young girl, and her evolution of understanding. Naylor makes her audience think about what it would be like to really “hear” a word for the first time, to look back and realize you had heard the word many times in a different context.
What strategies are used?
The language used by Naylor is common, as she doesn’t use large words one has to look up to understand. She writes in low style which is effective for her argument. This use of languages conjures an almost friendly relationship with her audience, like she is sitting down with you over a cup of coffee discussing how context can change your understanding of a word. She is sharing a part of her life and experience with the audience in order to shed light on her argument.
Naylor, Gloria. “Nigger: The Meaning of a Word” Ed. Goshgarian, Gary. Exploring Language. Ninth Edition. Toronto: Longman, 2001. Pages 460-462