Elie Wiesel, a holocaust survivor, gave a speech called The Perils of Indifference, to elected officials including the president and the first lady on April 12th, 1999. He claims that being a victim of indifference hurts, but it hurts even more when others don’t help. The author writes in a personable tone to connect with the audience during his speech. Wiesel supports his claim by utilizing many rhetorical devices, including tone, rhetorical questions, and repetition.
Wiesel defines the definition in depth, calls attention to the fact that indifference is more prevalent than acknowledged, engages often with the audience throughout his speech in a personal matter, illustrates the positive and negative accomplishments going on in the world, and delivers a hopeful message for the future in order to warn the audience about the presence of indifference in the world and how damaging it is so future progress can be made. Elie Wiesel defines the definition of indifference in depth in order for the readers to have context and understanding of his speech prior to introducing his message.
Wiesel uses rhetorical questions to point out the definition of indifference very clearly. “What is indifference? “. Wiesel is using a rhetorical question so that the audience thinks about the answer for themselves. He later goes on and says the answer to the audience himselves so they don’t misunderstand his point of view. Using a rhetorical question is a strong device to use because it has a greater effect on the audience than telling them right away because they can form their own opinions and insight.
In addition to using a rhetorical question, he defines his own situation very well by giving his first hand account to the readers as a Holocaust survivor. “… behind the black gates of Auschwitz, of all prisoners were the ‘Muselmanner,” as they were called. … They feared nothing. They felt nothing. They were dead and did not know it”. The effect of Wiesel giving his first hand account to the audience allows the audience to open their eyes about indifference and what it means in his own situation.
When Wiesel does this, he evokes emotional response from the audience because his encounter with indifference Many may misunderstand indifference, and the benefit of Wiesel giving his own experience helps him and his goal of letting people know what it really means. Elie Wiesel calls attention to the fact that indifference is more prevalent than acknowledged in order to prove to the audience that it is a bigger problem than what people are making it. Wiesel does this by using antithesis. Wiesel talks about extreme situations that people notice, and then states indifference is is a case of blurry lines.
He lists many short phrases in one sentence, “… light and darkness, dusk and dawn, crime and punishment, cruelty and compassion, good and evil”. The value of Wiesel explaining indifference using antithesis exposes that most people don’t pay attention to the things in between two extreme cases. Using antithesis is a superb way to shed light on the fact that people usually know of obvious situations. Indifference isn’t obvious, so antithesis is the perfect device to highlight that. For example, in war, people are either going to ask stories about the heroes, or stories about the injured.
They aren’t going to want to know what the photographer or truck driver did. The same thing goes for indifference. Those stuck in between the two extremes suffer because people neglect those who are in the blur. Wiesel is not saying that all negative events have a blur, but indifference causes the blur. As a survivor, Elie personally experienced the neglect indifference causes, therefore it was appropriate to use antithesis. The rest of his family was separated from him, leaving them to die and him to live. In addition, Wiesel also uses a cumulative sentence to enhance his argument that ndifference is more prevalent than realized.
He shares multiple examples of tragic events that “have cast a dark shadow over humanity”. He talks about the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Ghandi along with inhumane events like Hiroshima and Auschwitz. He does this all in one sentence to overwhelm the readers with many different situations when indifference has occurred. He wants to nail his point that indifference is very prevalent by listing so many events when it was involved. The cumulative sentence overwhelms the readers with many situations in which indifference led to tragedy.
This creates a logical argument for the audience, and they understand that indifference is not the innocuous thing they assumed. They realize that Elie, a survivor of Auschwitz, has had a first hand account of the horrors of indifference. This makes his argument exceptionally convincing. Wiesel also engages often with the audience throughout the speech in order to have an emotional connection with them. He uses his tone to connect with the audience on a personal level. “I stand before you, Mr. President… “, “And I thank all of you for being here”. Wiesel’s tone is very personable, and the examples prove that.
He uses words like you, we, and Mr. President to connect with the audience personally. He does this so the audience engages with his speech that he is presenting. Using a personable tone doesn’t only involve the audience, but it reveals Wiesel as a person. He lost his loved ones during the Holocaust, and he paints himself as a humble, civil person. This allows the readers to look at him not as a speaker, but as an average person talking about his personal experience with indifference. His overall goal is for them to take up indifference as a problem the world has.
Using a personable tone allows Wiesel to be relatable to the audience so they can have a better understanding of him and his message. He also shows his engagement by repeating the phrase “we” in rhetorical questions. Wiesel says, “Does it mean we have learned from the past? Does it mean that society has changed? “. This allows the readers to think about the answer to the questions. Asking the audience questions for them to think about allows them to have a deeper connection, because Wiesel is showing interest in their opinions when he asks questions.
Using rhetorical questions allows him to affirm to the audience that he cares about them and the connection he creates in his speech. He also mentions, “And now we knew, we learned, we discovered… “. The repetition of “we”, includes everybody in progression and change. He is saying that not just a select few are interested in abolishing indifference, he is saying that “we” as a whole want change to occur. He is uniting the audience in order to be more personal and relatable. Wiesel also illustrates the good going on in the world in order to show that accomplishments have been made.
He declares, “… he defeat of Nazism, the collapse of communism… ” “… Israel’s peace treaty with Egypt, the peace accord in Ireland”. All of the events listed are great accomplishments that the world has completed over time. Wiesel inspires the audience by using positive diction to illustrate that the future doesn’t have to be like the past, because many tragic events have come to an end because of bravery or protest from those opposed to indifference. He enhances his argument because multiple examples in a row overwhelm the audience with positivity, which is his goal since he wants to show that progress has been made.
In addition to positive diction, Wiesel uses repetition to illustrate more positivity. He says, “But this time, the world was not silent. This time, we do respond. This time, we intervene”. Wiesel repeats “this time”, to show that positive change is increasing as time goes on. He uses repetition to emphasize that the world is accomplishing many events. He still gets his point across when saying “this time”, because that proves that in the past that it wasn’t always like how he explained. The future can be different, it can be more civil, and a safe environment for all.
Wiesel repeats “this time” to promote that the future can has improved and will continue improving. Overall, he lets the audience know that good is being accomplished which impacts the stance of indifference and how prevalent it is becoming. Finally, Wiesel delivers a hopeful message for the future in order to inspire others to initiate change. Wiesel completes his cycle from beginning to end. At the beginning of his speech, he advocates, “He was finally free, but there was no joy in his heart. He thought there never would be again”.
Wiesel is talking in third person about himself. He does this to show his rage and struggle that he had as a child. When he was a young boy in the Holocaust, he was scared, and upset about the situation he was in. Using third person to portray his point is very valuable because it allows the readers to put themselves in the little boys shoes, and see why it is relevant that indifference is hurting many. At the end of the speech, Wiesel transitions to a different attitude of positivity to complete the cycle.
His rage and his struggle turned into hope and change as an older man. “And together we walk towards the new millennium, carried by profound fear and extraordinary hope”. Throughout the speech, Wiesel refers back to the rage many times, but also looks forward to a future of change in indifference. This completes his message because he wants the audience to take his own experience and commence future change. He also uses an allusion to God to deliver a hopeful message. Wiesel speaks about how God is with you no matter where you are, or what you’re doing.
Wiesel knew that God was with him all through the holocaust, and that gave him hope and strength. He validates that faith can get people through adversity. Using an allusion to God exemplifies Wiesel’s personal beliefs as an individual and verifies that he has had experience himself with God. This evokes both emotional respect for Wiesel along with credibility because he himself has personally been affected by God and His strength. If someone believes in the Lord and has a positive attitude along with hope, Wiesel believes that change can happen.