Analysis of “Ain’t I a Woman” by Sojourner Truth

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There are many components that conspire, in a work of literature, to get an author’s point across effectively to their readers. The rhetorical situation of a work contributes greatly to this, as it consists of “context, presuppositions, audience, author, argument, and occasion” (Grandorff). Authors rely on not only the rhetorical situation of their work, but the use of either ethos, logos, or pathos (or a combination of the three) to better connect their message to their reader. In comparing a speech I wrote and presented at my high school graduate and “Ain’t I a Woman” by Sojourner Truth, we look further into their rhetorical situations. Although both works have obvious differences, they are similar in their structures, making them an interesting comparison. The most important consideration of the two texts is the use of pathos, the Aristotelean appeal that creates an emotional response in convincing an audience of an argument. Despite their differences, the argument of both the speech I chose for the “Let’s Write” assignment and “Ain’t I a Woman” by Sojourner Truth would fall flat without the use of pathos. Through consideration of the rhetorical situation components and use of pathos, I was able to compare and relate the speech I gave at my high school graduation to that of Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman.”

As the author of my graduation speech, my background greatly influenced my writing. I had been a fellow student of my audience for two years prior to delivering my speech and experienced online school alongside them all. I had similar experiences to some of the students leading up to switching to Connections Academy and was able to relate to them through my presentation. My speech was used to thank my mom as well as my teachers, which draws on the support I received and how close I am to my mother. Having been born and raised in Oklahoma was a major point discussed throughout my writing as I used it to address how challenging it was coming from a town so small that there was not a single stoplight, to a big city like Colorado Springs. This was an important factor in considering the challenges I had to surpass to get to the point of graduating, as when I moved here, the brick and mortar school in Fountain (my district) would not accept my out of state credits, saying “they didn’t meet Mesa Ridge’s requirements.” This meant I was starting off my junior year in more freshman courses than anything else. Relating well to the challenges of life, author of “Ain’t I a Woman,” Sojourner Truth, formerly known as Isabella Baumfree, was a human right’s Activist (with the most emphasis on women’s rights), among other things, when she delivered the speech “Ain’t I a Woman” at the Women’s Convention in the year of 1851. She was born into slavery in what was estimated to be 1797, to parents whom were both slaves, in New York. Truth was able to escape slavery before its abolishment and shortly after became an abolitionist. As a female African American, former slave, and mother, she was able to connect with a unique group of individuals, specifically when delivering “Ain’t I a Woman.” Due to this, she was also facing discrimination from every direction in her life, which directly correlates to the context “Ain’t I a Woman” holds.

The context of both works differs drastically. The graduation speech was delivered downtown Denver, Colorado, at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House. It was an early morning in late-May of 2019, nearly two centuries after Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman.” The purpose of my speech was to address the teachers and students whom I would be parting ways after the high school graduation. Being the valedictorian of my graduating class, I had the honor of preparing and delivering said speech in front of thousands of people, including Connections Academy staff, fellow graduates, and their attending guests. The setting of my high school graduation valedictorian speech in no way compares to that of Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman.” The most relevant consideration of the time this speech was given is women’s suffrage. Delivered at the Women’s Convention, led by Frances Dana Baker Gage, in Akron Ohio, of the year 1851, its impact was so immense that it is still relevant today. Many attending the Women’s Convention found reasoning to support the cause in the ideas held by the Seneca Falls Convention, which resulted in the creation of the “Declaration of Rights and Sentiments.” This convention was the first of its kind; held only three years prior to the Women’s Convention in 1848, its purpose was to discuss women’s rights (or the lack thereof). Using these ideas and the courage of the convention leaders, women were inspired to call for their own rights in voting and otherwise.

The occasion of a text typically finds a way to tie into the context, although that is not always the case. After a deeper look into the background of Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman,” it becomes known that this is the case, as the speech was not prepared beforehand, and it was in response to certain people who had spoken beforehand on the same day. Ranking above other things in the importance of the occasion for which “Ain’t I a Woman” was written is the male speakers at the same convention Sojourner Truth was in attendance. When looked at in the simplest possible way, Truth was delivering a rebuttal to the men, as their ideas sharply contradicted her own. This information is not evident without looking further into the background of the text, unlike the speech I gave at my high school’s graduation. With less underlying meaning, the speech I wrote and delivered was more straightforward regarding the occasion. As the occasion ties directly into the context of the text, my purpose for writing it was only to read it to the people in attendance at graduation. This speech’s purpose is directly evident without needing to know much about the author’s [my] background, whereas “Ain’t I a Woman” is a direct contrast.

While presuppositions don’t have a drastic impact on my valedictorian speech, they have a great influence on “Ain’t I a Woman.” My speech solely considers the cultural expectation of graduating high school. There is an expectation of students in high school to graduate without considering any of the challenges they may be experiencing that make the process harder than it already is. It also touches on how this societal idea undervalues the effort it takes to graduate. In contrast, “Ain’t I a Woman” has a tremendous number of cultural norms influencing the topic of discussion. Most prominently shown in the speech is in Truth’s response to the idea that a woman’s most notable quality is helplessness, as she states “that man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches…nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles…and ain’t I a woman?” Here, she is challenging the idea that women are less capable than men, which is also the backbone in support of the concept that women’s rights are less than that of men, including women’s suffrage. All presuppositions considered not only fuel Truth’s entire speech, but they are the reason for the existence of the Women’s Convention.

The audience has a direct effect on the argument of both texts, as it does in most works. In the graduation speech, the audience consisted of the graduating class of Colorado Connections Academy 2019, various people they chose to invite, and school staff. Their influence on my writing mostly came from having made every effort necessary in earning their diplomas. My intentions for this speech was to relate to my class in some way or another while keeping them engaged. Through my use of pathos, I was able to share my experiences with the audience and create a reaction as they connected with the stories being told. Truth also uses pathos throughout “Ain’t I a Woman” in creating an emotional response from people that had a personal connection to her words. As her audience was not only supporters of the Women’s Convention, but white males (specifically referring to those who spoke at the convention), which were presumably Christian, she is easily able to create a reaction through the mention of God. When Truth challenges the statements insinuating that ‘women can’t have as much rights as men, ’cause Christ wasn’t a woman” by asking her audience “where did your Christ come from?” and following the question up with “from God and a woman,” she is attempting to get an emotional response from the people who agreed with the original statement. Again, this directly relates back to pathos, and without it, the point Truth was attempting to make would not have had such an impact on her listeners.

Using each rhetorical situation component, my speech develops the argument of how society underestimates the effort it takes to earn a high school diploma. Through my use of pathos, I created an emotional response from my audience in support of my claim. All factors work towards the intention of my speech, which was to further argue that despite a high school diploma being underappreciated, it still has value and was worth the hard work put into obtaining it. Sojourner Truth’s argument in “Ain’t I a Woman” is simply that women are just as capable as men and should be treated as such with equal rights. She creates her argument using PATHOS as well as various rhetorical devices. Her claim is supported through personal examples as a former slave, proving she is fully able to support herself without the help of a man. She further proves her point through questioning what it means to be a woman and how her race and background should not be contributing factors in deciding what it means.

Despite their differences, my graduation speech and Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman” rely on their use of the pathos to support their arguments. Other contributing factors greatly contributed to the effectiveness of either text. Factors such as, the authors background and their credibility regarding the topic being discussed, the beliefs held by the audience, and the structure of the text. Cultural and societal norms held at the time each work was written are important to consider when discussing the purpose for which they were written. Another important component worth considering in the synthesis of the two speeches is that of the setting and major events taking place. After thorough examination of both texts, it is evident that the use of pathos is crucial in conveying the points made.


Cite this paper

Analysis of “Ain’t I a Woman” by Sojourner Truth. (2022, Jun 08). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/analysis-of-aint-i-a-woman-by-sojourner-truth/

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