Definition of Rebuttal

Strictly interpreted, rebuttal refers to an attempt to disapprove, contradict or argue to overcome an opposing reasoning or evidence by introducing another reasoning and evidence to destroy the effect of the previous one. Rebuttal is a literary technique in which a speaker or writer uses argument and presents reasoning or evidence intended to undermine or weaken the claim of an opponent.

Features of Rebuttal

There are many features of an effective rebuttal. First, rebuttal states the opposing side’s position without any distortion. Secondly, the writers use quotations with accuracy and fidelity. Thirdly, this technique makes use of professional tone with rationality and courtesy, as it does not allow ridiculing to make points. Finally, rebuttal is often constructively critical, and readers bristle if they encounter extreme negativity.

Examples of Rebuttal in Literature

Example 1

A writer in your paper comforts himself, and the India Company, with the fancy, that the Americans, should they resolve to drink no more tea, can by no means keep that resolution, their Indian corn not affording ‘an agreeable, or easy digestible breakfast. “Pray let me, an American, inform the gentleman, who seems quite ignorant of the matter, that Indian corn, take it for all in all, is one of the most agreeable and wholesome grains in the world; that its green ears roasted are a delicacy beyond expression; that samp, hominy, succatash, and nokehock, made of it, are so many pleasing varieties; and that a johny, or hoe-cake, hot from the fire, is better than a Yorkshire muffin.”

(From The Founding Foodies: How Washington, Jefferson, and Franklin Revolutionized American Cuisine by Dave DeWitt)

Benjamin Franklin has written this succinct rebuttal in response to Vindex Patriae, who was a correspondent to Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser. This correspondent had ridiculed corn.

Example 2

There are many instances of rebuttal in Ray Bradbury’s novel Fahrenheit 451. A very notable example is the argument between Beatty and Montag. Beatty uses quotes from prominent intellectuals and authors, including Alexander Pope and Sir Philip Sidney. Beatty, thereby, makes an argument that books are just a source of debate and controversy, because we often see whatever mentioned in one book is contradicted in another. This situation becomes ironic as Beatty’s job is to burn the outlawed books, and he is skillful and well informed of literary works. With it, he is also capable of debating and arguing based on literary knowledge.

Example 3

Eugene Joseph Dionne, an editorial writer, provides a good instance of a rebuttal in The Washington Post. Before 2003 Iraqi invasion, some people were of view that those who opposed this invasion were unpatriotic, because in this way they would oppose American president. Dionne had rejected this suggestion. Dionne argued, if this was the case, “then Abraham Lincoln was an unpatriotic appeaser for opposing the Mexican War as a young congressman in the 1840s.” Dionne’s counter-argument is a complete rebuttal intended to show a flaw in the original argument.

Example 4

“For we were born of change. We broke the old aristocracies, declaring ourselves entitled not by bloodline, but endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights. We secure our rights and responsibilities through a system of self-government, of and by and for the people. That’s why we argue and fight with so much passion and conviction, because we know our efforts matter. We know America is what we make of it.”

(President Obama’s speech on 50th anniversary commemoration of Bloody Sunday in Selma)

Many critics interpret this speech of President Obama as a finely veiled rebuttal or an argument for conservative critics such as Rudy Giuliani, ex New York City Mayorm, who claimed President Obama “doesn’t love America.” While some other believe that Obama’s verbal attack is on the Congress, because it is not renewing Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Function of Rebuttal

The purpose of using rebuttal is to prove the other argument as erroneous and false. It is very common in literature, public affairs, law and politics where opponents put forward statements to negate or refute specific arguments against them. In law, rebuttal requires specific rules. The party uses rebuttal evidence must confine it solely to main subject of evidence rebutted. Whereas in literary works and politics, rebuttals help writers to defend their point of views as well as make positive criticism through argumentation.

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