Thursday 10 April 2014

Hungry Rhetoric

When Joyce is too simplistic, Tolstoy too brief, Kafka too jolly and Lautreamont too bourgeois, it's time to read The Hunger Games. I've just finished.

The third volume has as its catchphrase the rather catchy line "If we burn, you burn with us", and it occurred to me to wonder why the line is so... memorable, catchy, what you will. And when you inspect it, it's rhetorically rather interesting.

The following will all make more sense to those who have read The Elements of Eloquence, but there we go.

Firstly, there's the antithesis: we burn, you burn. Nice simple trick "East is East and West is West", "Man proposes, God disposes", "You say potato and I say potato". But there's more.

There's the pleasant little repetition of burn. Indeed, it's repeated with one word in between, which is a buried diacope. "Bond, James Bond" "Run, Forest, run", "burn, you burn", "Burn, baby, burn"


Sorry, I became rather carried away there.

But finally, there is the chiasmus, the symmetry. You start with:


Then you put a burn on either side:

Burn, you burn

Then you put "we" on one side and "with us" on the other:

We burn, you burn with us

And then you add an "If".

Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country. One for all and all for one. Nice to see you, to see you nice.

So that's three pretty sure-fire rhetorical tricks - antithesis, diacope and chiasmus, hidden in one sentence, combined with remarkable dexterity, and thoroughly memorable.

The Inky Fool made his own cinema version


  1. Dear Mark,

    I am a great fan of Elements of Eloquence and have read it more than once. It has really spiced up my writing, so thanks for that.

    One of the chapters I particularly valued was the one on poetry. It has made me more conscious of the underlying rhythm in words and sentences. It also shows just how clever the likes of Shakespeare really were. I never knew anything about the iambic pentameter (whatever I have learnt concerning how to write has been picked up by osmosis).

    Having had my interest in poetry stoked I am wondering if you could recommend any general books on the subject - in the same sort of vein as the chapter of your book. It might contain an overview of the rules of poetry, bits from famous poems, some analysis, and so on. Nothing too heavy, though.

    Any ideas?



  2. I'm not Mark, but I think Stephen Fry's The Ode Less Travelled might be of interest to you.

  3. Thanks for the reply. I'll take a look at that.