Skip to content

Analysis: David Wallace “This is Water”




Parts that apply to Rubric:

Organization:: Anticipation:  Paragraph 3- “I’d ask you to think about fish and water… ”

Organization:: Opening: Paragraph 1- “How’s the water? What the hell is water?…”

Organization:: Structural Support and Logos: Paragraph 11-20

Word Choice: Use words with purpose: Paragraph 11-20

Delivery:: Change of Tone – 00:11:06, 00:16:20


Dissection and brief analysis of Paragraph 11-20:  


The middle part of David Foster Wallace’s “This is water” (Paraph 11-20) stands out because of the use and combination of logos and pathos. In his attempt to explain the practical value of liberal arts education — “how to keep from going through your comfortable, prosperous, respectable adult life dead, unconscious, a slave to your head and to your natural default setting of being unique, completely, imperially alone day in and day out?” He articulates through a hypothetical scenario: getting off work and going grocery shopping. There were a couple of reasons why this section works well:

First is the timing. The beginning of paragraph 11 is around the ninth minute of his speech. This is around the time when some audience begin to lose their attention (that is why, according to my experience, an effective speech will be around 12-14 minutes if the goal of the speech has been achieved). Instead of presenting in an elevated and abstract way, Wallace presents this scenario, which is easier for the audience to follow and process, to serve as a transition to a more important passage which comes after it.

Second is the choice of the scenario — the experience of grocery shopping —  applies to every one of the audience. This helps to strengthen the connection between the audience. The use of descriptive words with sensory details encourages audience to picture in a way that will help Wallace make a point later — “the store is hideously lit and infused with soul-killing muzak or corporate pop and it’s pretty much the last place you want to be”, “you get told to “have a nice day” in a voice that is the absolute voice of death”. Wallace also blends the descriptive word with emotion — “how stupid and cow-like and dead-eyed and nonhuman they seem in the checkout line” This impression of default setting forms a contrast the way that Wallace wants the audience to take away.

Third, the combination of pathos and logos work well together to keep the audience engaged, which allows Wallace to introduce his elevated message – the idea of “worship” In the bigger structural picture, paragraphs 11-20 makes the transition to the point that Wallace intends to make. It is easier and more effective for a speaker to emphasize a point when the audience is emotionally appealed to and connected with the speaker.


Published inUncategorized

Be First to Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *