Evicted Close Contextual Analysis of Strategy and Prologue– By Sydney Ellis
Matthew Desmond’s New York Times Bestseller Evicted tells the story of tenants, landlords, and the housing market of, predominantly, Milwaukee’s lower class. Desmond’s ground-level analysis and observational case study into Milwaukee’s current housing disparity presents a new, distinct view about the root cause of poverty. Desmond’s underlying argument rests on the principle that housing is a fundamental necessity and should be an entitlement of American citizenship.
Desmond combines overwhelming evidence, on-hand experience, and revealing testimony to illustrate the toll inadequate housing has on individual, local, and national levels. Matthew Desmond’s base-level observational analysis enables him to draw an all-encapsulating, unsanitized account about the reality of destitution, and then utilize it as a vehicle to persuade readers of housing’s significance as a central cause, consequence, and primary contributor in the relentless cycle of poverty. Desmond builds his case by using primarily two of three Aristotelian rhetorical appeals (ethos and logos) to advocate the importance of housing and the necessity it plays in ending the cycle of poverty, and begin to heal the crippling effects inadequate housing has had on American families and communities.
“Ethos” is a type of ethical appeal establishing the speaker’s credibility; the arguments constructing the author’s perceived character and how they’re able to cultivate authority on the subject they’re discussing (Lecture 9/20). In attempts to gain reader’s trust, Matthew Desmond employs ethos strategically throughout Evicted to reinforce his knowledge and expertise on the subject, prove his reliability as a source, and persuade readers to make similar conclusions about his presented arguments. The “Author’s Note” is Desmond’s initial attempt to establish credibility with his audience. But an author’s credibility is only in the perception of the viewer and a rhetor’s capacity to successfully persuade that specific audience. The Author’s Note acts as a sort of disclaimer, basically prefacing situational or conditional terms Desmond has deemed necessary for the reader to fully comprehend his work. From the first sentence “This is a work of nonfiction” it immediately sets a specific focus and lens through which to read Evicted (xi). It acts as a disclaimer, that frames reader’s interpretation by outlining circumstantial elements necessary to effectively grasp Desmond’s implications.
The “Author’s Note” fulfills a particular “duty” that’s essential to the author-reader relationship when establishing trust and credibility; proof. “…All the events that occurred within that time period were witnessed first-hand” (xi). As the sole author of Evicted, it’s implicitly revealed that Desmond didn’t just write about these experiences, but lived them. By linking himself with his target audience’s innate faith and belief in American values, Desmond establishes his integrity as a trustworthy proponent for the issues he’s addressing. In essence, Desmond “puts his money where his mouth is”, appealing to the American value of hard work, getting your hands dirty, and doing it yourself; reinforcing his credibility by positioning him as a figure embodying shared values reader’s wish to possess (Foss, 26)
In addition to proof, the “Author’s Note” further entrenches Desmond’s credibility by indicating his commitment to transparency and objectivity. Expanding upon the “Author’s Note” disclaimer-like function, Desmond is completely transparent in his research process, curation of sources and stories, and the way he presented those findinings throughout his work. “…All quotations were captured by a digital recorder or copied from official documents. The names of tenants, their children, and their relatives, as well as landlords and their workers, have been changed to protect their privacy” (xi). By including this passage he’s establishing a level of transparency with readers by revealing the meticulous measures he’s taken to prevent misinterpretation of his argument or sources, he’s trying to establish a level of transparency that makes him almost vulnerable. By including a disclaimer and, essentially, just putting it all on the line Desmond reveals a level of vulnerability that he hopes will, in turn, be reciprocated by his readers. Desmond forms a reciprocal relationship built on mutual trust between him and the audience by ceding first and showing the reader “all his cards”. This level of vulnerable transparency creates an open, trusting relationship with his audience that places him as a voice of honesty and revealer of truths. This, accompanied with the absence of personal pronouns, implicitly positions his role as one of objectivity, as a third party or non-actor in this narrative. By showing a level of remoteness and disconnect in his process, Desmond enforces he has no emotional stake in the matters discussed, and therefore is not subject to implicit bias affecting his research and conclusions.
Furthermore, the use of footnotes is substantial in Desmond’s establishment of credibility for his audience because it provides a type of “real-time fact-check” throughout the book. If a reader is skeptical of a claim, they’re able to immediately be redirected to the original source, thus ceding hesitation of such claims; allowing easier facilitation of his argument to be accepted in the mind of the reader. Although not a traditional neoclassical rhetorical appeal, including footnotes created a sort of visual confirmation of facts that subconsciously instills reader’s confidence in the research and conclusions on the subject. Additionally, one of the footnotes’ essential functions was as a validation for external proofs: “those the rhetor uses from other sources but does not create, including the testimony of witnesses and documents such as contracts and letters” used to strengthen Desmond’s rational appeals to his audience (Foss, 26).
Evicted is steeped in external proof, but it’s Desmond’s ascending presentation of external evidence that is able to appeal to the audience’s rationality and reinforce the prominence of eviction and housing inequity as a driver of poverty in America. Desmond’s entire book could be seen as an extended version of the rhetorical appeal “logos”, which is the support and development of the author’s basis for argumentation; the evaluation of evidentiary support in serving the underlying thesis (Foss, 26). Logos is a logical appeal, operating under the assumption that the audience is rationale, and presenting arguments in such a way will bring them to the desired conclusion. Therefore, Evicted is organized in a way that starts the reader at base level concepts needed to understand Desmond’s argument. Desmond then shows, consequentially, how one aspect builds on another to display, in layman’s terms, how evictions contribute to the continuous cyclical process of poverty. By rationalizing his main argument to readers in a logical, sound, and comprehensible way Desmond is able to point out the irrationality of the current system and why these failures are occurring.
To facilitate the desired audience’s conclusion, Desmond primarily uses inductive reasoning, a subset of logical appeals; “a series of specific examples used to draw a general conclusion” as a vehicle with which to rationalize his claims (Foss, 26). Desmond follows each of the main characters and their unique stories to illustrate larger, and unfortunately, commonplace issues. Doreen Hinkstons’ sudden eviction that brought her to Sherrena’s property was used to exemplify how “poor families [are] often compelled to accept substandard housing in the harried aftermath of eviction… [and] were almost 25 percent more likely to experience long-term housing problems than other low-income renters” (69). Using individualized examples on a micro-level scale to represent a larger, national problem doesn’t allow readers the opportunity to rationalize counterarguments because the harsh reality-check of the human cost of poverty is inherently irrational and implicitly “un-American”.
“The more likely an audience is to resist a claim; the more evidence a speaker must provide” (Lecture 9/20). Poverty is a hard topic. It makes people uncomfortable because it confronts privilege, inequality, sickness, abuse, and heartbreaking struggle. Desmond didn’t blatantly employ “pathos” as a rhetorical appeal because, unfortunately, he didn’t have to. The stories spoke for themselves. The sad reality of these people’s lives were enough it seemed. Desmond’s primary use of “ethos” and “logos” was strategic because he had to prove to his readers that eviction was a primary cause and consequence of poverty. Confronting the issue with comprehensive evidence and previously-established credibility allowed Desmond to navigate through the tragedy of poverty from a more rational standpoint, which made readers more open to engage in discussion and come to similar conclusions about the role eviction plays in perpetuating destitution in America.