Saving Private Ryan Commentary

July 10, 2017 Religion

In the movie Saving Private Ryan, American soldier private James Ryan losses all three of his brothers during World War Two. The Marshall, not wanting to allow a mother to lose all four of her sons gives orders to send a unit to find and rescue private Ryan, despite the possibility of letting many men die to save one mans life. In order to gain his staff’s support for this decision the Marshall reads them a letter written by Abraham Lincoln to a mother who lost five sons during the civil war which contains various rhetorical techniques such as: ethos, allusions, as well as pathos coupled with powerful diction.

Through these rhetorical techniques this letter is able to make a strong emotional impact on any viewers which is used by the Marshall as a tool of persuasion to effectively gain the support of his staff. “I leave you only the cherished memory of the loved, lost and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom. ” The ethos of soldiers who fight for their countries, and die for their countries is unquestionable, they line up right next to a countries leader on a level of ethos projected to an audience.

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The Marshall uses this ethos to instill a sense of duty in his staff, the duty to go rescue Private Ryan so that his mother does not have to grieve over the loss of all of her children. A soldier who has lost three brothers makes people feel a sense of indebtedness because of the character behind someone who has sacrificed so much for their country, this ethos brought on from the context of private James Ryan influences the staff of the Marshall to agree with him.

This coupled with the patriotic and sad feeling that everyone in the room has after hearing about the mother who lost five sons during the civil war makes all the staff ready to go prevent another mother from losing all her children. “Yours, very sincerely and respectfully, Abraham Lincoln. ” The president of all people perhaps carries with him an air of ethos, the words of a president make even the most trivial of things seem paramount.

The Marshall does not disclose that these words were Abraham Lincoln’s until he reads the end of the letter signed by Lincoln himself. The gravity of the words in the letter are suddenly much greater now than they were before. The letter was very moving, very charismatic, but when it is known Lincoln himself wrote this letter, it seems much more important and powerful than before. This is because the ethos or the character that the president carries is far greater than any general, or other ranking member of the army.

The Marshall uses the ethos of Abraham Lincoln to help further demonstrate his point of just how server the situation of private Ryan is, and how important it is that he must be rescued. Allusions are used to connect with the audience, in a country as religious as the United States religious allusions create a bond between the auditor and the audience that causes the audience to feel morally obligated to agree with the speaker. “I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement.. This religious allusion made by Abraham Lincoln in his letter helps the staff feel like they must go save private Ryan because religion is looked to when people find themselves in hopeless/desperate situations when they themselves feel powerless; a situation like that of the mother of private Ryan. Now with God in the picture the staff naturally feels compelled to attempt to fix the situation given the religion bond now created between them and a fellow believer.

The strength of this religious allusion is furthered by the fact that it is Abraham Lincoln praying, the fact that the person of highest power in secular government feels the need to pray for such an occasion highlights to the audience the weight of the situation. “I have a letter here, written a long time ago to a Mrs. Bixby in Boston. ”… “Yours, very sincerely and respectfully Abraham Lincoln. ” The letter read by the Marshall is an allusion to a letter written by Abraham Lincoln to a mother who was in the exact same situation they now find the mother of the Ryan brothers.

This letter is so powerful because it describes the same news that the mother of the Ryan brothers will receive if the last brother James doesn’t get rescued. This allusion/letter serves as the persuasive argument made my the Marshal, which because of it’s parallel effectively persuades his staff to support his decision. In his letter, Abraham Lincoln uses a combination of pathos and diction to attempt to comfort the grieving mother who lost all five of her sons, and the language and emotion in the letter cause the Marshall’s staff to feel empathetic for the mother who lost her five sons and for private Ryan’s mother.

This empathy is the final push that drives the staff to fully support the Marshall’s plan to send a unit after private Ryan. “I feel how weak and fruitless must be any words of mine that would attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. ” The melancholy expressed through the words such as fruitless and “grief of a loss so overwhelming” acknowledges how no words could ever suffice to comfort a loss so unimaginable while expressing an attempt to be sympathetic to the situation which the mother finds herself. I pray that our heavenly father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement.. ” the use of strong diction methodically has a powerful effect on the audience that helps them understand the gravity of the situation and to feel moved by the letter. The pathos combined with the powerful diction helps move the audience (the Marshall’s staff) and ultimately side with him on his decision to send a unit to save Private Ryan. by Zach Zerr


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