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The Rhetorical Analysis of “Cannibalism: It Still Exists” by Linh Kien Ngo

The essay “Cannibalism: It Still Exists” by Linh Kien Ngo describes the problem of cannibalism in the today’s reality. It seems that the author tries to challenge the American people’s belief: that cannibalism is something completely extrinsic for them. Thus, he attempts to persuade his audience that this practice is essential to everyone. The author’s audience seems to be very broad, but the emphasis is made on the Americans, especially those belonging to the academic sphere. The author emphasizes the representation of cannibalism in the American literature as well as the cases of cannibalism in the Americas. The essay is written in an academic form and includes a reference list. Through the specific structure of the essay, Ngo starts with an example of cannibalism, a relatively recent case, and then describes different forms of cannibalism in the so-called ‘primitive’ tribes, and returns to the question concerning the possibility of cannibalism in modern developed countries, which may take place, for example, if starvation prevails. Thus, the essay is very persuasive because it demonstrates step-by-step that there are many examples of cannibalism in those ‘primitive’ societies that coexist with the developed states and also among the citizens of developed states, who faced the danger of death of starvation and, thus, ate other people. As a result, the author’s assumption concerning cannibalism, that still exist both in people from the developed states and in those from ‘primitive’ societies, looks persuasively. The main concept of the essay is that cannibalism is a phenomenon, which, along with its cultural specifics, has biological reasons and, thus, can be only prevented and avoided but not eliminated.

The essay begins with a real story of some Vietnamese refugees who tried to escape by sea from the communist regime during the Vietnam War, lost their captain, and ended up in the sea without any means to get food or water. As a result, they started eating bodies of those who died of starvation. In the essay, the author brightly lists the sufferings of these people, mentions that they tried to escape communists, links the story to the Vietnam War, and, finally, provides a detailed description of how they used different parts of the dead bodies. All of these rhetorical choices help the author to engage the reader with the story by linking it both to real events, such as the communists and the Vietnam War, and to overwhelming sufferings and cruelties of the Vietnamese refugees, appealing in this way to the reader`s emotions. Then, the author provides a theoretical base of his study of cannibalism: a brief history of cannibalism, its appearances in the American popular culture, particularly in Mark Twain’s prose, and the classification of different forms of cannibalism, such as survival cannibalism, dietary cannibalism, as well as religious and ritual cannibalism. Ngo makes this theoretical part easy to read for the majority of his audience by appealing to such concrete examples as the mentioned story of the Vietnamese refugees and the well-known prose of Mark Twain. He further contrasts and compares the cruelties of the Vietnamese refugees, who ate only dead bodies, to other peoples’ cruelties that include different forms and explanations of cannibalism. Thus, Ngo lists few examples of survival cannibalism when people eat other people to survive: the cases of the Japanese troops and the American case of Donner Party that took places in 1945 and 1846 respectively. It is important that the first case took place in the middle of the 20th century, while the second case took place in the USA. Then, the author lists the examples of dietary cannibalism based on the conviction to eat only some categories of people, regardless of the danger of starvation. Ngo also mentions the Miyanmin society of Papua New Guinea, and the Leopard and Alligator societies in South America. Then, the author lists the examples of religious and ritual cannibalism represented in the Bangalia tribe in Central Africa and some other African tribes, such as Bimin-Kuskusmin tribe, that resort to cannibalism to benefit from eating some specific organs of other people. Thus, through the list of different evidences, the author concludes the essay with the idea that the phenomenon of cannibalism in its different forms still exists in the modern world. Besides, as he underlines, everyone is a potential cannibal because, regardless of any cultural or social limitation, any person can eat other people in a critical situation, as shown by the examples of the Vietnamese refugees, Japanese troops, and the Americans of Donner Party.

The author uses the main rhetorical choices in a strategical sequence that helps to organize a persuasive argument. Thus, the story about the Vietnamese refugees highlights that it happened during a modern conflict; it indicates that this occurrence is part of the today’s reality, mentioning the Vietnam War and the communist regime. Further, Ngo develops his argument by appealing to the reader`s emotions and listing the sufferings: descriptions of the eaten parts of human bodies. Thus, when the reader is already emotionally engaged, the author provides a theoretical base, such as the morphology of cannibalism, which would not be very engaging if it lacked the story about the Vietnamese refugees. As for the classification of cannibalism, the author provides two examples of survival cannibalism, that took place in such developed countries as the USA and Japan, and also tells about the cases of dietary cannibalism that took place in South America. All other examples concern Papua New Guinea and Africa, but the information provided is enough to make the reader persuaded that cannibalism is a reality, which can materialize in any place and in any society.

As for inconsistencies, it seems there are no considerable anomalies in the essay because it mostly consists of the author’s rhetorical choices. The text is well-elaborated, and its only possible weakness could be the lack of examples of religious and ritual cannibalism outside the African lands. It appears that the author just used the most popular examples of religious and ritual cannibalism and, thus, limited this phenomenon to Africa and also did not provide examples from the Americas. This detail makes the argument weaker, with the absence of American religious and ritual cannibalism because, as it was assumed, the American readers are the author’s major audience.

The main concept of the essay by Ngo is that everyone has cannibal inclinations, regardless of a person’s cultural background, social status, and other characteristics. Through the specific rhetoric choices and their correct strategic arrangement, the author achieves the maximum effect of emotional persuasion. Relating the case of the Vietnamese refugees to the reader, the author provides many other examples of the today’s cannibalism and concludes with the assumption that everyone could eat other people in a critical situation. The author’s conclusion implies that this assumption is right both because the ‘primitive’ societies demonstrate that cannibalism is not alien for people in general and because the today’s ‘civilized’ people resorted to cannibalism in extreme situations. In this way, Ngo’s essay provides a perfect example of emotional argumentation strengthened by factual evidences.

Work Cited

Ngo, Linh Kien. “Cannibalism: It Still Exists”. Read Critically, Writing Well, edited by Rise B. Axelrod, Charles R. Cooper, Alison M. Warriner, Bedford Books, 2011, pp. 223–6.