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John Howard Griffin – Black Like Me

Rhetorical devices can be effective in descriptive writing if used properly. They can give a dominant impression to the reader as well as a main focus. John Griffin uses such techniques in describing the racial conflict in the South. In Black Like Me, John Howard Griffin uses rhetorical devices such as similes and alliterations in order to portray the racial conflict that persisted and that still persists in the South today.

Griffin’s use of rhetorical devices such as imagery and alliterations allow the reader to have an image of the segregation issues and the cruelty that the

white folks expressed to the blacks. Each type has its own purpose and meaning to that specific part in the story. The imagery Griffin uses throughout the novel allows the reader a clear idea about the differences between the white and black society. Also, near the end of the book, Griffin describes his old office, which he is clearing out because he is going to move to Mexico to escape the threats. “… emptied now of all except the table and the typewriter and the bed, stripped of its sheets, with only the mattress ticking staring up at the ceiling.” (163). Griffin used alliterations in order to compare the black society to animals that are in constant fear. But while the animals fear their predators, the black society fears the white man, always on the hunt for a stray Negro to humiliate or torture,“ I sensed the radiance of it in the stillness, sensed the earthworms that burrowed back into the depths of the furrows, sensed the animals that wandered in the woods in search of nocturnal rut or food.” (4). This part of the story emphasizes the anxiousness that Griffin feels about undertaking this dangerous yet enthralling task. This quote also indirectly shows how the black community lives, in constant fear of the dangers that lurk in their community. Both the imagery and alliterations used by Griffin gives the reader an understanding about what the differences are in the black and white communities and also the worries and state of mind of Negroes.

Griffin’s experience as a black allowed him to formulate a more accurate opinion about the problem, which persists in America until this day. His quest was dangerous from the beginning; however, Griffin knew that by exposing the truth, the racial problem in the South would be solved quicker, even if it meant at his sacrifice. Throughout Griffin’s journey, his opinions changed drastically. When he first transformed into a Negro, he was naïve, thinking that the whites were rather courteous and really sympathized and cared about the black society. He did not fully understand the habits of the blacks at first either, which kept Griffin a little more conservative in order to not attract attention. Yet, as Griffin became more accustomed to the black society, he also discovered the other side of the Southern whites, their racist side. Even some northerners, who tended to accept the black community more than the southerners, would express their contempt at times towards Negroes. When Griffin tours Tuskegee Institute, he encounters a professor who sympathizes with the black community, who later involuntarily insults a black vendor, “The white man… had made the first dirty suggestion that came to his mind.” (130). Griffin refuses to believe this at first, but later understands the troubles that the Negroes go through each day of their lives. This is the transformation of Griffin’s opinion about the Southern white and many Northerners as well, knowing how they are the provokers to this whole problem in the South.

Griffin’s incorporation of the rhetorical devices such as alliterations and imagery, to name a few, not only give the reader a clearer view of the different communities, but also the transformation within him. His writing becomes much more vivid and lively near the middle when he becomes aware of these atrocities. These devices, allow Griffin to express his opinion about his thoughts on the problem in the South, which so far, has not been solved.