30 Dec 2022


Rhetorical analysis of Civil Disobedience by David Thoreau

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In his essay Civil Disobedience David Thoreau claims that he fully supports the declaration that the best government is one which governs the least. However, he adds that what he himself truly believes is that the best government is one which does not govern at all. In this essay, Thoreau analyzes the federal government critically arguing that it is a fake institution which was created by the powerful people in society ( Gier, 2013) . In Civil Disobedience Thoreau does not only use pathos to try and appeal to the audience to buy into his idea that government is bad, but he also uses ethos and logos to express his ideas about why the government is bad. 

Use of Pathos 

Pathos is a rhetorical device which elicits sadness or pity. Thoreau uses pathos through his essay with the aim of making people to have pity on him and others as well as elicit rage in them so that they can rise up against the government. He uses pathos mainly when he is talking his experiences in prison. He appeals to the people’s emotions and tries to draw their sympathy by showing how prison is bad and why some people, like him, have been jailed for no reason ( Gier, 2013) . One case where Thoreau uses pathos is when he narrates a conversation he had with his cellmate. In this essay, he says that when he inquired from his cellmate why he had been imprisoned, the cellmate replied that he had been accused of burning a barn but that was not true since he had not done ( Thoreau, 2016) . He further adds that his cellmate had told him that he has been waiting for three months for his trial and that it was likely that he will have to wait more before being tried. This narration depicts the government as very unfair. it also elicits sympathy and rage in people. 

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Use of logos 

Apart from pathos, Thoreau also uses logos to express himself in this essay. Logos is an appeal to reason or logic. For example, in trying to appeal to logic, he equates the government to standing army and tries and tries to argue why both are illegal. He points out that the constitution states that having a standing army when there is peace is unconstitutional or illegal and since the government is similar to a standing army, then it is also illegal ( Simmons, 2010) . In this logical reasoning, Thoreau tries to prove that there is no need for government. 

Use of ethos 

Ethos involves appealing to ethics or moral sense. In this essay, Thoreau tries to convince people that they have a moral duty to rise up against the government. For example, he states that unjust laws exist. So should people just be contented to obey them or should they try to amend them. He also states that when the country is unjustly run by a foreign army and is subjected to military law, then it cannot be said that it too soon for people to rebel against it ( Gier, 2013) . In this case, he tries to appeal to people’s sense of duty to rise against an illegitimate government. 


Basically, in the essay Civil Disobedience Thoreau tries to appeal to people emotion, uses logic reasoning, and appeals to people’s morals and sense of duty in trying to discredit the government and prove that it is illegal. The essay is aimed to raise emotions among people and make them rise against the government. 


Gier, N. (2013). Three Principles of Civil Disobedience: Thoreau, Ghandi, and King. The University of Idaho

Simmons, A. J. (2010). Disobedience and its objects. BUL Rev. , 90 , 1805. 

Thoreau, H. D. (2016). Civil disobedience . New York: Broadview Press. 

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