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Pathos: Definition, How It Works & Examples In Writing

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As a writer, you must know the different literary devices available.

These devices can add interest and depth to your work and create a more compelling narrative.

In this article, we explore the use of pathos along with some of the most common literary devices used in writing.

We also discuss how they improve your work and how these devices can inspire you when you want to choose things to write about.

What Is Pathos?

Rhetoric is the art of persuasion, and pathos is a key element in effective rhetoric.

Pathos is an emotional appeal used in writing or speaking to audiences.

The most important thing about pathos is that it’s implemented sparingly and carefully.

Too much emotion can turn an audience off, while too little will leave an audience uninterested.

Also Known As:

  • Poignancy
  • Pitiableness
  • Plaintiveness

Simple Definition: How To Explain Pathos to a Child

Pathos is a writing technique used to make readers have an emotional response.

Authors use words and images to create feelings of sadness, excitement, and more.

Why Is Pathos Used?

Pathos is a way to persuade an audience of an argument.

The goal is to get the audience to connect with the speaker on an emotional level so they will be more likely to agree with the speaker’s point of view.

When used ineffectively, pathos can backfire and cause audiences to react negatively to the message.

Types of Pathos

Pathos is a very versatile literary tool that can elicit strong emotions in the audience.

There are various types of pathos authors and speakers implement in their work.

So whether you’re wondering how to write a blog post or trying to write the next literary hit, here are a few types of pathos you can use:

  • Imagery/Symbolism: Pathos can be seen in imagery and symbolism to cause emotions through the chosen colors and expressions.
  • Sentimental Pathos: This literary device appeals to the reader’s sense of nostalgia or sentimentality, evoking emotions such as happiness, love, or sorrow. This type of pathos is highly effective in literary works.
  • Tragic Pathos: Tragic pathos is used to evoke pity or fear in the reader, often by representing suffering or death. This pathos is seen in Shakespearean plays and Greek philosophical texts.
  • Comic Pathos: Comic pathos is to provoke laughter or amusement, typically by representing the foibles of human nature.  Comic pathos performs well in shorter texts, articles, or blog posts.

How Do You Identify Pathos

To identify pathos, you must understand the author’s emotional appeals.

The reader must first understand the characters’ feelings and how the author conveys emotions.

In some cases, the author may use descriptive language to help the reader feel the character’s emotions.

For example, words like “hate,” “love,” and “murder” evoke an emotional response.

Pathos-heavy arguments or dialogue often make use of personal stories and anecdotes, as these can be very effective in stirring up feelings.

How Do You Use Pathos in a Sentence?

The author must first establish a connection with the reader, then use language that triggers the desired emotions.

They might use words that evoke feelings of sadness or sorrow or describe a character’s hardship to make the reader feel empathy.

What Is the Most Popular Example of Pathos

William Shakespeare has some of the most popular instances of pathos.

For example, pathos is used in Romeo and Juliet when Romeo talks about his love for Juliet in the balcony scene.

This use of pathos makes the audience feel sympathetic for Romeo and his situation.

Other Famous Examples of Pathos

Several notable authors and speakers effectively use pathos in their work.

“I Have a Dream” by Martin Luther King Jr.

MLK Jr. talks about how he has seen his children denied the right to education.

He also discussed his harassment by police officers.

These stories appeal to the emotions of his audience to support his cause.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Pathos is shown in the character of Jay Gatsby.

Throughout the novel, Gatsby is a tragic figure unable to let go of his past.

Ultimately leading to his downfall as he can’t escape the hurt and betrayal he feels.

Fitzgerald creates a powerful and memorable character by evoking pity and sympathy in the reader.

Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller

Willy Loman is a man inextricably linked to his profession.

However, as he approaches the end of his career, he finds himself unable to compete with others.

Facing the prospect of retirement and obsolescence, Willy ultimately takes his own life.

By humanizing Willy and revealing the toll that his profession has taken on him, Miller allows readers to empathize with the character.

Other Modern Examples of Pathos

Pathos is also a prevalent literary device in modern works.

Examples of Pathos for Kids

For children, pathos must be relatable and understandable.

  • Example 1: A teacher tells a story about a time when they were bullied as a child to teach their students about kindness.
  • Example 2: A child watches a video about a sad dog in a shelter and writes about how that made them feel.
  • Example 3: A bedtime story includes a character telling a personal story about going through a tough situation.

Examples of Pathos in Writing

In writing, pathos can be achieved through the use of vivid language, storytelling, and metaphors.

  • Example 1: In “A Modest Proposal,” Jonathan Swift uses satire to highlight the plight of the poor in Ireland. He does this by suggesting that they be sold as food for the rich. While this suggestion is ridiculous, it highlights the desperate situation and provokes outrage in his readers.
  • Example 2: In J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, the author uses pathos to create a relatable character in Harry Potter. Throughout the series, Harry faces many challenges and hardships. These experiences allow readers to empathize with Harry and feel invested in his story.
  • Example 3: In the novel The Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen is a young girl who is thrust into a deadly competition. She must fight for her life while also trying to protect her loved ones. The reader feels suspense and empathy, as they root for Katniss to survive.

Examples of Pathos in Literature

To create a pathos-driven piece, authors often rely on personal anecdotes, stirring images, and appeals to morality.

  • Example 1: In Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe uses vivid descriptions of slavery to share the brutal experiences many enslaved people went through.
  • Example 2: Pathos can be found in Elie Wiesel’s Night. This first-hand account details Wiesel’s experience as a Holocaust survivor and paints a harrowing picture of the atrocities that he and others endured.
  • Example 3: In the play “Romeo and Juliet,” Shakespeare uses pathos to create a sense of tragedy and despair.

Notable Writers Who Used Pathos

Many notable writers have used pathos in their work to connect and convince the audience of their story.

Here are a few prominent examples.

Charles Dickens

Dickens frequently used pathos in his work, particularly in his novel Oliver Twist.

The character of Oliver is a perfect example of how Dickens uses pathos to create a compelling and sympathetic character.

Harper Lee

Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird is a book that exemplifies the power of pathos.

The story, set during the Jim Crow era, centers on the trial of a falsely accused black man.

Through the use of vivid language and moving characters, Lee highlights the injustice of the racial inequality that was so prevalent at the time.

As a result, readers feel outraged at the treatment of African Americans in the United States.

Jon Krakauer

Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild follows Chris McCandless, a young man who decides to abandon society and live off the land in Alaska.

Krakauer expertly chronicles McCandless’ journey, and readers can’t help but feel empathy for him as he struggles against the harsh conditions.

What Is the Opposite of Pathos

Pathos is one of three primary methods for persuasive arguments, the other two include ethos and logos.

Logos appeals to logic or reason, and ethos appeals to authority or status.

Pathos vs. Ethos

While pathos appeals to emotions and subjectivity, ethos attempts to establish the credibility or good character of the speaker to win over the audience.

Ethos can help convince the audience that the speaker is knowledgeable and trustworthy and that they should listen to what they have to say.

Each method has its strengths and weaknesses, and different audiences will respond better to different approaches.

Other Related Literary Devices To Know

In literature, authors often employ various devices to engage the reader or enhance the meaning of their work.

  • Ethos: Ethos refers to the credibility or character of the speaker or writer.
  • Logos: A logos-based argument relies on the use of sound reasoning and clear evidence to prove a point.
  • Irony: Irony is the contrast between what is expected and what occurs. There are three main types of irony: verbal, situational, and dramatic.
  • Allusion: A brief, often indirect reference to a person, place, thing, or event. Authors often use allusions to add depth and richness to their writing.
  • Rhetorical Question: A rhetorical question is a question that is asked for effect or to make a point, rather than to get an answer.

Writing Tools To Help You Out

Writing tools help us to express ourselves clearly and concisely, without ambiguity or confusion.

They also enable us to organize our thoughts logically.

Writing tools can save you time and money, making them worth it to check out.

  • Writing Helpers: While some people can write effectively without any outside help, many people find that using helpers for writing can be extremely helpful. There are various writing helpers available, ranging from simple spell checkers to more complex grammar checkers. And for people who have difficulty getting their ideas down on paper, there are even outlines and brainstorming tools available.
  • AI Writing Software: AI writing software can help you to improve your writing skills. In addition, AI writing software can help you to save time by automating the editing and proofreading process. GPT-3 powered software is an advanced writing program many individuals use.
  • Grammar Checkers: Tools for checking grammar help ensure your writing is error-free, and they can also help you to improve your overall grammar skills.
  • Content Creators: Content creators can help you develop compelling content that tells a story, drives conversions, and builds brand loyalty. They can help you to develop an effective content marketing strategy that aligns with your business goals.

Frequently Asked Questions

Literary devices can be tricky to use correctly, but with a little practice, these devices can sway an audience in favor of the speaker.

What is a good sentence for pathos?

The best way to find the right balance is to appeal to universal emotions everyone can relate to.

For example, a sentence that speaks to the fear of losing a loved one is more likely to resonate with an audience than one that simply tries to evoke pity.

What are ethos, pathos, and logos?

Ethos is an appeal to ethics, pathos is an appeal to emotion, and logos is an appeal to logic.

Each of these modes of persuasion can be used in different ways, but they all share one common goal: to convince the audience of the speaker’s argument.

Wrapping Up

As you can see, there are various methods an author can use to engage their readers.

Many writers connect to their audience through pathos, ethos, and logos.

In addition, it’s helpful to be aware of other literary devices that can add depth and richness to your writing.

And finally, don’t forget to use the many tools available to help you write more effectively.

With some practice, you’ll be able to wield these tools like a pro and create content that engages and persuades your readers.

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