David Foster Wallace’s essay Consider the Lobster

David Foster Wallace’s essay Consider the Lobster

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Consider the Audience


The gluttonous lords of the land capture those who are unable to defend themselves, boil the captives alive, and then feast on their flesh. Could this be the plot of some new summer blockbuster? It could be, in fact, but for now we will focus on how this depiction of events compares to David Foster Wallace’s essay, “Consider the Lobster,” which starts as a review of the Maine Lobster Festival, but soon morphs into an indictment of not only the conventions of lobster preparation, but also the entire idea of having an animal killed for one’s own consumption. Wallace shows great skill in establishing ethos. In the essay, he succeeds in snaring a receptive audience by laying out a well-baited trap for an audience who was looking for something else altogether, but he ultimately fails to keep hold of much of his catch.
The piece in question was written for and published in Gourmet magazine. Presumably, the readers of that publication have already made up their minds about what they like to eat. A philosophical treatise on animal rights is probably not high on their reading list. In order to suck these readers in, Wallace hides his disdain for the subject matter inside cynical and ironic language. In his opening sentence, Wallace refers to the Maine Lobster Festival as “enormous, pungent, and extremely well-marketed” (252). This is an effective turn of phrase in that each reader assigns his or her own values to those adjectives. While an optimist sees in his mind’s eye a large, aromatic party filled with revelers from all over the continent, a pessimist pictures a crowded, stinky mess which has sold out for the money. Wallace draws them both in with his careful use of language.
The words “optimi...


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...lace’s inability to set up enough ethos to bring the reluctant portion of his audience along on his exploration of animal-rights issues causes this to be an ineffective piece. The only readers who are interested in its points are those who already agree with them. The vast majority of readers will either tune him out once he starts using more negative and eventually desperate language, or they will get through the piece and then go have some dead animal prepared for their supper without a second thought. He skillfully guides the audience into his net through his early use of neutral language, but when he tries to draw in his catch he ends up opening a giant hole in his netting, allowing many to follow their peers back into the murky sea from whence they came.

Sources Cited

David Foster Wallace’s essay, “Consider the Lobster,” in Gourmet Magazine. June 2008.

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