Rhetorical Analysis Of The Left Handed Commencement Address

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Award-winning author and feminist Ursula K. Le Guin delivered a rhetorically complex speech to the Mills College graduating class of 1983, comprised almost entirely of women. Her speech came at a challenging time for women, as second-wave feminism began to dissolve into a myriad of disagreeing factions. The title of the speech, the “Left-Handed Commencement Address,” is a reference to her book The Left Hand of Darkness, which follows an androgynous race of space aliens. This foreshadows the content of her speech, wherein Le Guin discusses gender norms and the importance of women forging their own paths in a male-dominated society. Le Guin uses strong ethos to connect with her audience successfully, though I believe she uses her credibility …show more content…
You can’t even get there by selling yourself out: because there is theirs, not yours” (Le Guin). The beginning of this line is a reference to an old Phillip Morris ad for cigarettes targeted at women, while the end – “but no way is long enough” – is of Le Guin’s own devising. With it, she implies that while women can gain space in a male-dominated world, as they did with cigarette ads, this fight is futile because “there is theirs, not yours” (Le Guin). No carefully carved-out space in the male arena will ever be fit for women, because such spaces were inherently forged with men in mind. While Le Guin did not pen all of these words herself, the pronoun built into the phrase “You’ve come a long way, baby” is still rhetorically effective for Le Guin. As opposed to calling women “we,” the use of “you” gives Le Guin authority. Celebrated in her field – science fiction writing, a traditionally male-dominated field – Le Guin understands the challenges of the women in the audience. She has fought for success in “the language of our tribe… the men’s language” (Le Guin). This “you” is personal, if almost intimate, especially in the final line “You can’t even get there by selling yourself out: because there is theirs, not yours” (Le Guin). This usage does separate her from her audience, but by evoking the concept of “theirs” in the same breath, Le Guin creates an “other”. The “other” she creates with the phrase “there is theirs” is men, whom she separates from the “you” of women. By separating out men and women into “their” and “you,” Le Guin maintains the dichotomy she created earlier with the use of “we,” allowing her to still connect with the women in the audience while delivering authoritative advice with the pronoun

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