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Rhetorical Analysis

Incorporating Piper Pathos into Freshman Composition


During the winter term, multiple events have caught me by surprise. Within the first few weeks of the semester, I had a police officer commandeer my classroom key and I had a student just appear both on my Blackboard roster and in my class during week three. Both of those events led me to wonder “what could possibly happen next?” Well, the “next” event to occur was the most jarring experience that I’ve had so far.

As I introduced concepts for rhetorical analysis, I mentioned fairy tales as a medium for pathos. In order to examine the emotional appeal of fairy tales and folklore, I asked the class to relay the pathos in The Pied Piper of Hamelin. I waited for about two minutes and no one responded. I then asked: “by a show of hands, who has heard of the Pied Piper?” To my utter surprise, out of twenty students, not a single one raised their hand! My mind was completely blown at the prospect that none of them knew about the Piper (who I thought was an archetypal figure). I carried on and narrated the tale for the class, but I believe that stories like The Pied Piper should be both seen and heard, i.e. presented as an illustration and/or video.

After that class session, I researched a variety of Pied Piper interpretations and found four interesting retellings:

1933 – The Disney Silly Symphonies short (7 minutes) “The Pied Piper”: an animated film based on the story

1949 – The Warner Bros Merrie Melodies short (7 minutes) “Paying the Piper”: a Looney Tunes cartoon starring Porky Pig

2010 – The FOX Police Procedural series Lie to Me episode (42 minutes) “Pied Piper”: a reinterpretation of the Piper as a child killer

2011 – The NBC Dark Fantasy series Grimm episode (42 minute) “Danse Macabre”: a reimagining of the Piper as a violin savant who moonlights as a rave disc jockey.

Along with these vastly different retellings, I found an online presentation of “The Pied Piper of Hamelin”: which presents Kate Greenaway’s 1888 illustration of Robert Browning’s 1842 poetic interpretation of the tale. Ideally, I would have shown these videos to the class when we started the rhetorical analysis sequence. The students would have read the online Pied Piper illustration right before we started discussing rhetoric. Since I have two 80 minutes sessions during the week, I could screen one short and one episode for each class period. However, because of schedule constraints, I had to shelve this approach. If I were to implement this Pied Piper material without prepping beforehand, it would have thrown a monkey wrench into things. Bombarding my students with this material would have come across as reactionary punishment. The students would have thought that I am only showing them this material because they did not know about the tale.

Another reason why I shelved this approach: I was hesitant to devote two weeks of fairy tale analysis into basic college writing. However, after a little research, I found a similar approach of incorporating fairy tales into a freshman composition class. In a study entitled “Disrupting Fairy Tales and Unsettling Students,” William Thelin reports his observation of Wendy Carse’s Composition class. In 2007, Indiana University of Pennsylvania’s assistant professor, Wendy Carse devoted a writing project to the Cinderella tale. Carse had her class read five interpretations of Cinderella: by Charles Perrault, the Grimm Brothers, Disney, Giambattista Basile, and Tuan Ch’eng-shih. After reading, the class examined the cultural implications that arose from the differences between the multiple interpretations. By tying cultural analysis with fairy tales, Carse was able to address the hesitancy that students have towards taking fairy tales seriously. Through the examination of fairy tales as rhetorical narratives and discussing their influence on a child’s acculturation of gender roles and cultural values, comp students will gain appreciation and a critical eye for fairy tales.

Similar to Wendy Carse’s composition course, I can have my students encounter five interpretations of a fairy tale. In my case it would be Greenaway’s illustration of Browning’s poem, Disney’s short film, Warner Bros’ short film, Lie to Me’s episode, and Grimm’s episode of The Pied Piper. Since I might devote two-to-three weeks on the rhetorical appeals within The Pied Piper, I could have my students articulate the ethos, logos, and pathos within these multiple interpretations. We could contrast the logos of Lie to Me’s reimagining the Piper as a child killer versus Porky Pig as a Looney Tunes version of the Piper; two very different messages intended for two different audiences. By presenting and examining fairy tale interpretations in a visual and auditory form, students are more likely to retain these classical tales, and gain a better understanding of the rhetorical strategies within them.

Adam Yerima is a PhD Candidate in Film and Media Studies and first-year GTA who currently teaches ENG 1020 and tutors in the Writing Center.

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