Rhetorical Context in “Solitude and Leadership”


This post, along with the following two, are taken from a “Reading Discussion” in my Writing for Publication class. You will probably only want to read them if you have read the stories in question.

Also, here is a link to the speech. I would highly, highly, recommend everyone to read this. It’s great.

“Solitude and Leadership”, a lecture given by William Deresiewicz at the Military Academy at West Point, was intended to teach students the importance of thinking for themselves as well as finding solitude in order to become true leaders.

The author’s lecture is largely shaped by rhetorical context. Deresiewicz uses audience as a key factor in his speech. He addressed them many times throughout the speech, which probably helped in holding their attention. Here are a few examples. “Leadership is what you are here to learn…” (168). “Surely you who have come here must be the ultimate conformists” (174). “You and the members of the other service academies are in a unique position among college students, especially today” (177). He consistently addresses the audience as “you”, or “you here at West Point”.

The audience is a group of students at West Point Military Academy. Most are probably in their twenties. One way in which Deresiewicz appeals to them is by giving them credibility and building their self-esteem. He states, “Indeed, when we look around at the American elite…We find that they come overwhelmingly either from the Ivy League and its peer institutions or from the service academies, especially West Point” (169). He also gains credibility for himself by stating that he taught for ten years at Yale University, a highly accredited school. Deresiewicz also appeals to the students by bringing himself down to their level. Several times he mentions the use of modern applications, such as Skype, Facebook, and Twitter. This can be appealing to the younger generations.

Occasion also shapes this piece. One example Deresiewicz uses in his speech is a quote from the students’ “course director, in a lecture he gave last year to English 102” (174). Deresiewicz uses a source that is not only up-to-date, but also personal to the students. Deresiewicz also speaks about a “scandal at the U.S. naval base in Bahrain that was all over the news recently” (181). Once again, the source is up-to-date and relates to the students’ interests.

The author’s purpose is to give the students insight about what it means to be a true leader, and how to accomplish it. The reader’s purpose is to learn the connection between solitude and leadership.

Synthesis questions:

1. Did you find the reading worth-while? Why or why not? Does this piece move you to take action? To seek solitude?

2. Why do you think Deresiewicz finds solitude to be an important part of leadership?

3. Do you agree with the author about our “messed up” leadership system? Do you think we should try to “keep the routine going” or come up with fresh ideas?

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