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Influencing By Exposition. Part 2

Methods Of Exposition

The various ways along which a speaker may proceed in exposition are likely to touch each other now and then, and even when they do not meet and actually overlap, they run so nearly parallel that the roads are sometimes distinct rather in theory than in any more practical respect.

Definition, the primary expository method, is a statement of precise limits.1 Obviously, here the greatest care must be exercised that the terms of definition should not themselves demand too much definition; that the language should be concise and clear; and that the definition should neither exclude nor include too much. The following is a simple example:

To expound is to set forth the nature, the significance, the characteristics, and the bearing of an idea or a group of ideas.

- Arlo Bates, Talks an Writing English.

Contrast and Antithesis are often used effectively to amplify definition, as in this sentence, which immediately follows the above-cited definition:

Exposition therefore differs from Description in that it deals directly with the meaning or intent of its subject instead of with its appearance.

This antithesis forms an expansion of the definition, and as such it might have been still further extended. In fact, this is a frequent practise in public speech, where the minds of the hearers often ask for reiteration and expanded statement to help them grasp a subject in its several aspects. This is the very heart of exposition - to amplify and clarify all the terms by which a matter is defined.

1 On the various types of definition see any college manual of Rhetoric.

Example is another method of amplifying a definition or of expounding an idea more fully. The following sentences immediately succeed Mr. Bates's definition and contrast just quoted:

A good deal which we are accustomed inexactly to call description is really exposition. Suppose that your small boy wishes to know how an engine works, and should say: "Please describe the steam-engine to me." If you insist on taking his words literally - and are willing to run the risk of his indignation at being wilfully misunderstood - you will to the best of your ability picture to him this familiarly wonderful machine. If you explain it to him, you are not describing but expounding it.

The chief value of example is that it makes clear the unknown by referring the mind to the known. Readiness of mind to make illuminating, apt comparisons for the sake of clearness is one of the speaker's chief resources on the platform - it is the greatest of all teaching gifts. It is a gift, moreover, that responds to cultivation. Read the three extracts from Arlo Bates as their author delivered them, as one passage, and see how they melt into one, each part supplementing the other most helpfully.

Analogy, which calls attention to similar relationships in objects not otherwise similar, is one of the most useful methods of exposition. The following striking specimen is from Beecher's Liverpool speech:

A savage is a man of one story, and that one story a cellar. When a man begins to be civilized he raises another story. When you christianize and civilize the man, you put story upon story, for you develop faculty after faculty; and you have to supply every story with your productions.

Discarding is a less common form of platform explanation. It consists in clearing away associated ideas so that the attention may be centered on the main thought to be discussed. Really, it is a negative factor in exposition, though a most important one, for it is fundamental to the consideration of an intricately related matter that subordinate and side questions should be set aside in order to bring out the main issue. Here is an example of the method:

I cannot allow myself to be led aside from the only issue before this jury. It is not pertinent to consider that this prisoner is the husband of a heartbroken woman and that his babes will go through the world under the shadow of the law's extremest penalty worked upon their father. We must forget the venerable father and the mother whom Heaven in pity took before she learned of her son's disgrace. What have these matters of heart, what have the blenched faces of his friends, what have the prisoner's long and honorable career to say before this bar when you are sworn to weigh only the direct evidence before you? The one and only question for you to decide on the evidence is whether this man did with revengeful intent commit the murder that every impartial witness has solemnly laid at his door.

Classification assigns a subject to its class. By an allowable extension of the definition it may be said to assign it also to its order, genus, and species. Classification is useful in public speech in narrowing the issue to a desired phase. It is equally valuable for showing a thing in its relation to other things, or in correlation. Classification is closely akin to Definition and Division.

This question of the liquor traffic, sirs, takes its place beside the grave moral issues of all times. Whatever be its economic significance - and who is there to question it - whatever vital bearing it has upon our political system - and is there one who will deny it? - the question of the licensed saloon must quickly be settled as the world in its advancement has settled the questions of constitutional government for the masses, of the opium traffic, of the serf, and of the slave - not as matters of economic and political expediency but as questions of right and wrong.

Analysis separates a subject into its essential parts. This it may do by various principles; for example, analysis may follow the order of time (geologic eras), order of place (geographic facts), logical order (a sermon outline), order of increasing interest, or procession to a climax (a lecture on 20th century poets); and so on. A classic example of analytical exposition is the following:


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