Breaking the silence: A rhetorical analysis of selected works by Sandra Cisneros and Toni Morrison through the lens of Northrop Frye's rhetorical theories of speech and style




Alfaro, Melissa

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Texas Woman's University


Since antiquity there has been a debate centered on the female voice. Thousands of years later, two modern American ethnic writers, Sandra Cisneros and Toni Morrison, examine the topic of the female voice through their literary works, including Cisneros' The House on Mango Street and Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories and Morrison's The Bluest Eye and Sula. Northrop Frye's rhetorical theories of hieratic and demotic style and speech may be examined and applied to the fiction of Cisneros and Morrison. The introductory portion of this analysis begins with a discussion of Northrop Frye's rhetorical theory of the use of language as it is applied in literature and portrayed in an amalgamation of hieratic and demotic style to compel "active participation" between the reader and the writer (I 02). According to Frye the rhetorical mark of a piece of literature is found in the "meditative quality" of a work that makes a "book a permanent possession of literature and not simply a contribution to scholarship: a quality of wisdom and insight rather than merely of learning" (60). Whereas a work may be ornamental in one sense, the implementation of a meditative feature by an author causes the work to take on an oratorical approach, the chief appeal being, according to Frye, "to the emotions or the imaginations, so that the meditative element is considerably increased" ( 61 ). The succeeding chapters present an analysis of Cisneros' use of imagery, mythology, the imagination of the protagonist and the penetrative word and Morrison's use of Aristotelian plot, pathos, and catharsis. The application of Northrop Frye's rhetorical theory of hieratic and demotic style and language allows a demonstration of the ways the meditative element is present in all four works as a means of enlightening and empowering the audience to examine its communities and to realize the ramifications of silence and the power that exists in a voice.



Sandra Cisneros, Toni Morrison, Northrop Frye, Rhetorical theory