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Dilemma

Updated Feb 13, 2023

The Rhetorical Device of Dilemma: A Powerful Tool in Persuasive Communication

As humans, we constantly face choices and decisions in our daily lives. These choices can be simple, like deciding what to wear or what to eat, or they can be complex, like choosing a career path or making tough ethical decisions. The power of these choices lies in the fact that they often present us with dilemmas, forcing us to weigh the pros and cons and ultimately make a decision. This concept of a dilemma is not only relevant in our personal lives but is also a powerful rhetorical device used in persuasive communication to sway opinions and engage audiences. In this article, we will explore the rhetorical device of dilemma, its purpose, and some notable examples.

Understanding the Rhetorical Device of Dilemma

In rhetoric, a dilemma refers to a situation in which a person is forced to choose between two equally undesirable or challenging options. It presents a problem where the outcome, regardless of the choice made, is unfavorable. The goal of using a dilemma as a rhetorical device is to create tension, capture attention, and push the audience towards a specific viewpoint or course of action.

The Purpose of Using a Dilemma in Persuasive Communication

When used effectively, a dilemma can be a powerful tool in persuasive communication. By presenting an audience with a difficult choice, it forces them to critically think about the issue at hand and consider the consequences of each option. This heightened engagement makes the audience more receptive to the speaker's arguments and increases the likelihood of them adopting the desired perspective or taking the suggested action.

Notable Examples of Dilemma as a Rhetorical Device

1. Sophie's Choice

One of the most famous examples of a dilemma is found in William Styron's novel "Sophie's Choice." In the story, Sophie, a Holocaust survivor, is forced by a Nazi officer to choose which one of her two children will be spared from death. This heart-wrenching decision encapsulates the essence of a dilemma, as both options lead to a devastating outcome. Styron's use of this moral dilemma serves to highlight the unimaginable suffering and impossible choices faced by those affected by the Holocaust.

2. Climate Change: Individual vs. Collective Action

In the context of climate change, a common dilemma arises when discussing individual actions versus collective action. People may feel torn between making personal sacrifices to reduce their carbon footprint or relying on collective efforts to address the larger issue. The dilemma lies in the fact that individual actions alone may seem insignificant, but without widespread collective action, the problem remains unresolved. This rhetorical device prompts individuals to question their own responsibility and motivates them to participate in collective efforts to combat climate change.

3. Political Campaigns: Policy vs. Personality

During political campaigns, candidates often employ the rhetorical device of dilemma to sway voters. They may present the choice between supporting a candidate based on their policies or favoring them due to their likability and personality traits. The dilemma here lies in the tension between choosing a candidate who aligns with one's ideologies and values versus selecting someone who appears charismatic and relatable. By using this dilemma, politicians aim to convince voters to prioritize one aspect over the other and ultimately gain their support.

Conclusion

The rhetorical device of dilemma serves as a powerful tool in persuasive communication, capturing attention, and influencing opinions. By presenting two equally unfavorable options, it engages the audience and prompts critical thinking. Notable examples, such as Sophie's Choice, climate change action, and political campaigns, demonstrate how dilemmas can be effectively employed to sway opinions and guide decision-making. The next time you encounter a dilemma, whether in personal decision-making or persuasive communication, consider the underlying power and impact it holds.

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