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A Descriptive Analysis of Nigger: The Meaning of a Word by Gloria Naylor

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A Descriptive Analysis of Nigger: The Meaning of a Word by Gloria Naylor

What is the rhetor’s purpose?

In the essay “Nigger: the meaning of a word” Gloria Naylor discusses the essence of a word and how it can mean different things to different people in a myriad of situations. Depending on race, gender, societal status and age Naylor outlines how a word like ‘nigger’ can have different meanings within one’s own environment. Naylor discusses how a word can go from having a positive to a negative connotation merely due to how it is spoken and by whom. Naylor shares a personal experience with her audience as she describes the first time she really “heard” the word ‘nigger’. A young white boy in her third grade class spit it in her face. Naylor states, “I didn’t know what a nigger was, but I knew that whatever it meant, it was something he shouldn’t have called me.” (Naylor 460)

Naylor writes about her own personal experience and is obviously biased. This, while powerful, can also be seen as a limited view of the subject. Her audience only understands thorough her eyes and her experiences.

Naylor is trying to educate her audience by sharing a personal experience. I think she wants her audience to sit back and think about the words they use and how others may use them and how this can affect others. Naylor wants her audience to understand how she was affected not only by a young boy but also by how she didn’t really think about the word ‘nigger’ until the moment it was used to hurt her. She is striving to make her audience think about the words they use and hear and how the context these words are immersed in can change the meaning of them.

Who composes the target audiences?

To be a part of Naylor’s target audience one must have obviously had experience with language and how people use it. She is targeting those who have heard and/or used the word “nigger” before.

Naylor wants her audience to take on her experience and be empathetic towards her. She doesn’t do this in a seemingly pathetic way, as she seeks no pity. She outlines her experience and wants her audience to understand her view and how this view came to be.

What roles or personas does the rhetor assume?

Naylor assumes the role of an educator in her writing. She assumes a persona of a young girl experiencing a new way of understanding a word. ...


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... She uses a conversational tone that adapts nicely to the audience. I say this because draws the reader in and he or she easily understands and accepts her experience. Naylor uses her experience to exemplify her point and to offer validity. One is drawn in by her experience as a young girl, and her evolution of understanding. Naylor makes her audience think about what it would be like to really “hear” a word for the first time, to look back and realize you had heard the word many times in a different context.

What strategies are used?

The language used by Naylor is common, as she doesn’t use large words one has to look up to understand. She writes in low style which is effective for her argument. This use of languages conjures an almost friendly relationship with her audience, like she is sitting down with you over a cup of coffee discussing how context can change your understanding of a word. She is sharing a part of her life and experience with the audience in order to shed light on her argument.

Works Cited:

Naylor, Gloria. “Nigger: The Meaning of a Word” Ed. Goshgarian, Gary. Exploring Language. Ninth Edition. Toronto: Longman, 2001. Pages 460-462


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