David Foster Wallace’s purpose was to bring attention to our “default settings” or thought that we are the center of the universe. He also points out that we have the choice of what to think, and encourages us to switch gears and view others to be just as important as we are.
Wallace clips his own wings to prevent from alienating himself from his audience by saying, “I am not the wise old fish.” Wallace maintains this connection with his audience by making him seem more relatable when he says, “Please don’t think … that I’m saying you’re supposed to think this way… because it’s hard, it takes will and mental effort, and if you’re like me, some days you won’t be able to do it, or you just flat-out won’t want to.” He is doing this to present himself as equal to everyone else in the audience. He may be the most famous person at that graduation and any other commencement speaker would most likely talk down to the graduates and present themselves as wise, but he’s proving his point of switching off the egotistical and self-absorbed thought that humans instinctually have and realizing that we are not the center of everything.
Throughout the speech, Wallace emphasizes the tediousness of the real world and how we overwork ourselves so much that we unconsciously make ourselves the only and most important thing in the world. At one point during the speech he tells a story about a man going to the grocery store after work. He then puts himself in this scenario and states, “my natural default setting is the certainty that situations like this are really all about me. About MY hungriness and MY fatigue and MY desire to just get home, and it’s going too seem for all the world like everybody else is just in my way.” This statement might’ve rubbed people the wrong way, but the audience most likely related to what he was talking about completely.
This point would make anyone step back and feel guilty for feeling this way because they really don’t know what might be going on in someone else’s life. Wallace explains this by saying, “Or I can choose to force myself to consider the likelihood that everyone else in the supermarket’s checkout line is just as bored and frustrated as I am, and that some of these people probably have much harder, more tedious or painful lives than I do, overall.” He recognizes the probability that someone may me facing more difficult circumstances than him, unlike many others would do. Not only does Wallace shine light on our ignorance, but he also uses logic to explain how and why we are being ignorant in doing and feeling what we are.
Wallace’s way of using narratives to involve the audience’s emotions and convey his message to them was one of his strongest rhetorical strategies. The narratives that he used were ones that get emotions involved and can clearly convey the message that he is trying to get across to his audience, especially when he says, “if you’re aware enough to give yourself a choice, you can choose to look differently at this fat, dead-eyed, over-made lady who just screamed at her little child in the checkout line — maybe she’s not usually like this; maybe she’s been up three straight nights holding the hand of her husband who’s dying of bone cancer, or maybe this very lady is the low-wage clerk at the Motor Vehicles Dept. who just yesterday helped your spouse resolve a nightmarish red-tape problem through some small act of bureaucratic kindness. Of course, none of this is likely, but it’s also not impossible — it just depends on what you want to consider.”
In this mini narrative Wallace incorporates such overwhelmingly sad yet relatable details on the tough sides of life that we, as humans, will get emotionally involved and really think about the way we treat and think about the people we meet with everyday because of our selfishness.
David Foster Wallace uses a variety of persuasive techniques throughout his speech. By discrediting himself and putting himself on the level of his audience, Wallace makes himself seem more relatable. He describes everyday circumstances that are relatable and frustrating to everyone.