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Abstract

In her article, "Cultural Politics, Rhetoric, and the Essay: A Comparison of Emerson and Rodó," Sophia McClennen compares two essays which have been central to debates over "American" cultural identity. Her work is a detailed comparison of the persuasive language used in "The American Scholar" by Ralph Waldo Emerson and "Ariel" by José Enrique Rodó. She focuses on the specific ways that the rhetoric of the persuasive essay binds Emerson and Rodó to a literary tradition and consequently impedes each author's ability to construct a liberated culture. She also demonstrates how the comparative method is a useful tool for analyzing representations of cultural autonomy. For in both essays the author is intent on resisting cultural colonization from a dominant power; yet the tools employed in such resistance ultimately resort to thoughts derived from others. The similar literary and intellectual framework of these essays suggests that a correlative historical moment -- nation-building -- and political motivation -- the quest for an autonomous cultural identity -- can lead two authors from different places and different periods to produce very similar types of rhetoric or persuasive discourse. The conflict between these essays' cultural politics and their use of rhetoric explains one of the fundamental pitfalls of these texts: On the one hand, each essay wants to convince the reader to think "freely" yet, on the other hand, clearly articulates and dictates the guidelines for such behavior.

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