Pathos Definition

Pathos is a quality of an experience in life or a work of art that stirs up emotions of pity, sympathy and sorrow. Pathos can be expressed through words, pictures or even with gestures of the body.

Pathos is an important tool of persuasion in arguments. Pathos is a method of convincing people with an argument drawn out through an emotional response. Analyzing examples of pathos, one would come to the conclusion that it differs from other “ingredients of persuasion” namely “Ethos” and “logos”. Ethos means convincing others through the credibility of a persuader, while Logos is a method to convince others by employing logic and reason.

Common Examples of Pathos

For a better understanding of the subject, let us examine a few pathos examples from daily conversations:

  • “If we do not leave this place soon, we will end up yelling for help. We do not see anyone to help us here. So, leave this place and live” – the statement evokes emotions of fear.
  • “Made in China” logo on various products sold in China tries to enhance their sales by evoking patriotism among the customers.
  • Ads encouraging donations, show small children living in pathetic conditions to evoke pity in people to urge them to donate for the cause.
  • Referring to a country as “motherland” stirs up patriotic feelings in individuals living in that country or state.
  • A soft instrumental symphony may arouse people emotionally.

Pathos Examples in Literature

Let us turn to literature to trace some examples of pathos:

Example #1

In chapter 8 of Mark Twain’s “Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

“He had meant the best in the world, and been treated like a dog—like a very dog. She would be sorry someday—maybe when it was too late. Ah, if he could only die TEMPORARILY!”

Tom arouses feelings of pity in readers’ minds by telling how the girl, whom he loved, treated him like an animal despite his honest feelings for her. He wishes he had died and then she would feel sorry for him.

Example #2

Mr. Collins’ confession to Elizabeth that he wants her to be his future partner evokes feelings of sympathy in readers as they feel an emotional intensity in his proposal. Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” is well known for its pathos.

“Believe me, my dear Miss Elizabeth, that your modesty adds to your other perfections. But you can hardly doubt the object of my discourse, however your feminine delicacy may lead you to dissemble. For, as almost as soon as I entered the house, I singled you out as the companion of my future life!”

Example #3

In Act V of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet”.

“Then she is well, and nothing can be ill.
Her body sleeps in Capels’ monument,
And her immortal part with angels lives.
I saw her laid low in her kindred’s vaul”

Romeos’s servant Balthasar invokes pity among the audience, when he informs Romeo, who was waiting impatiently to hear about Juliet, that Juliet is dead and is buried in her family’s death. We feel sorry for the untimely death of Juliet and her heartbroken Romeo.

Example #4

These lines are taken from “Ol’ Man River” a lyric composed by Paul Robeson.

“Darkies work on de Mississippi
Darkies work while de white folks play”

We feel overcome by pity for Black Americans [Darkie] who were enslaved to White Americans [white folks]. The contrast of the words “work” and “play” shows the social disparity between the two races.

Example #5

In Maya Angelou’s “Caged Bird”, pathos is created by presenting a contrast between “the free bird” and “a caged bird”.

“The free bird thinks of another breeze
and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn bright lawn
and he names the sky his own
But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.”

We see the words “grave”, “shouts, scream”, “clipped, tied” are associated with a bird in a cage, which makes us feel pity toward that miserable bird.

Function of Pathos

We humans are emotional beings and writers know it very well. They introduce pathos in their works to touch upon our delicate sensations such as pity, sympathy, sorrow and, consequently, try to develop an emotional connection with readers.

In addition, emotions are part of real life. Thus, by giving pathos expression in their works, writers bring their narratives, characters and themes closer to real life. Furthermore, the use of pathos by a debater in an argument appeals to people emotionally, making it a tool to convince people and change their opinions.

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