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The Great Influenza By John Barry Essay Definition

In The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History, award-winning writer John M. Barry traces the arc of the deadly pandemic of 1918, a pandemic that may have killed as many as 100 million people worldwide. Barry brings his journalistic skills as well as extensive medical research to bear on the story of the influenza and the medical men who tried to fight it. The result is a thorough yet gripping narrative of both the times and the events shaped by the pandemic.

After a brief prologue introducing Paul Lewis and his first encounter with the deadly flu, Barry turns to an analysis of medical education in the United States at the turn of the twentieth century. Shockingly, a college degree was not required for admission to medical school, and many students “often graduated without ever touching a patient.” William Henry Welch and the founders of The Johns Hopkins medical school envisioned a different system, modeled after German medical schools. In addition, Welch was instrumental in establishing The Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health and served as its first dean. In an ironic turn of events, the school was scheduled to open on October 1, 1918, but Welch was too ill with influenza to attend. However, he and other pioneers of medical and public health education had prepared an army of scientists and doctors ready to do battle with disease. As Barry writes, “On October 1, 1918, the abilities of that army were about to be tested by the deadliest epidemic in human history.”

In part 2, “The Swarm,” Barry turns his attention to the origins of the pandemic, arguing convincingly that the first cases of what came to be called the “Spanish influenza” really appeared in Haskell County, Kansas, early in 1918. Because one of the largest cantonments of Army troops was located at nearby Camp Funston, the virus spread eastward with the troops as they made their way toward Europe and the killing fields of the Western Front.

Indeed, it is likely that World War I created the pandemic, even though the virus did not originate among its participants. The United States’ entry into the war in April, 1917, created a huge demand for soldiers and placed extraordinary pressure on the structures that would house those soldiers. Army camps were disastrously overcrowded, as were troop ships. In addition, troops needed to be trained and sent on their way as quickly as possible; the overcrowding and the mobility of the troops, along with the virulence of the flu strain surfacing in the spring of 1918, created what Barry calls a tinderbox.

The first cases of flu in Europe appeared in Brest, France, shortly after American troops disembarked there in Apri1, 1918. The flu made the rounds of both the Allied and Axis armies that spring, and although a great number of soldiers took ill, few died from it. Nevertheless, Erich Van Ludendorff, the German commander, blamed the failure of the last German offensive on the illness of his troops: There simply were not enough men available to fight.

Meanwhile, the flu surfaced in Spain. Because Spain was a neutral nation, its press was not censored, as were American and European newspapers. Consequently, only Spanish newspapers reported on the flu, and the rest of the world began calling the illness sweeping through country after country the “Spanish influenza,” or the “Spanish Lady.”

Barry goes to great lengths to explain how the widespread but essentially nonlethal strain of flu that affected the world in the spring of 1918 transformed itself into a deadly killer by autumn of the same year. In addition to viral mutation, he blames public officials’ passivity in the face of the epidemic. Engaged in the first “total war” in United States’ history, the American military and political policy makers, focused on events in Europe, were unable and unwilling to address the rapidly growing epidemic at home. They failed to take measures that might have saved hundreds, if not thousands, of lives. Civil authorities routinely used wartime censorship of the press as the means by which they controlled and contained information about the disease. Moreover, in Philadelphia, as well as in other cities, officials refused to cancel public gatherings, such as large...

(The entire section is 1740 words.)

The AP English Language rhetorical essay can be nightmare inducing for some AP students, but there is no need for fear. In this exam review we will lay out helpful strategies to get you through the rhetorical essays in no time.

Rhetorical Strategy #1: Dissecting the Prompt

The first rhetorical essay strategy is to dissect the prompt. Understanding what the rhetorical essay wants from you is essential. It is important for you to read the prompt carefully for every essay, but critical reading is even more essential to the rhetorical essay. Your rhetorical prompt that you will be given for the AP English Language exam will contain two elements. The first element is the concrete task that the prompt is asking of you, which is always to analyze the passage that follows. The second part of the prompt is a more abstract task that is not directly asked for in the prompt, but it is implied. By completely understanding both parts of the prompt, you will be able to give a complete essay that will get you to a higher score.

One example of a prompt from an AP English Language rhetorical essay is this one from the 2008 exam. The prompt reads:

“In the following passage from The Great Influenza, an account of the 1918 flu epidemic, author John M. Barry writes about scientists and their research. Read the passage carefully. Then, in a well-written essay, analyze how Barry uses rhetorical strategies.”

Here you can see the concrete task that the examiners are asking. They want you to analyze the passage for rhetorical strategies; however, you must figure out what you are analyzing the passage for. That is the more abstract concept that you need to dissect the prompt to find. In the case of Barry’s passage you will need to analyze how he uses rhetorical strategies in order to portray scientific research. We know this, because if you look at the prompt, it specifically states what Barry did in his work, which was to write about science and research. That is your abstract task.

Once you have found your concrete task and your abstract task, a great strategy is to write it down to keep you focused throughout your essay. Using the example above this would look like the following:

Analyze how Barry uses rhetorical strategies in order to portray scientific research.

That sentence is what you must follow when writing your essay, and if you successfully keep to this task, then you will move closer to that high score.


Rhetorical Essay Strategy #2: Stick to the Format

This next rhetorical essay strategy is the key to great organization and structure that will put your test anxiety to bed. There is a simple paragraph structure for the body paragraphs of the AP English Language rhetorical essay that will allow you to think, write, and score higher, faster. You need to begin each body paragraph with an assertion or claim. That is the point that you are trying to make clear to your audience what you will be proving. A great example of this is from the 2006 AP English Language rhetorical essay. Below is student 2B’s opening sentence for her first body paragraph.

“The diction of the passage fully relays Hazlitt’s position about money (student 2B).”

You can see how the student directly asserts what he or she will be proving in this statement. The next step in constructing your body paragraph is to give one to two pieces of textual evidence. Be sure to state why these quotations relate back to your claim, otherwise they will be deemed irrelevant by the examiners. An example of this is the next sentence in student 2B’s body paragraph about diction. Here, the student brings in elements from the text to support his or her claim about Hazlitt using diction.

“’Rejected’, ‘contempt’, ‘disparaged’, ‘scrutinized’, ‘irksome’, ‘deprived’, ‘assailed’, ‘chagrin’; the endless repetition of such discouragement shows just how emphatically Hazlitt money is requisite for happy life (student 2B).”

The final part of this strategy for conquering the body paragraphs of your rhetorical essays is to end those body paragraphs with a thorough analysis. This is the aspect of the exam where you can put your way of looking at the text into your essay.

An example of this is at the end of student 2B’s body paragraph where he or she states, “The irony of the last sentences is negative, conveying the utter hopelessness of one without money. Though one may have none in life, pitiless men will continue to mock one’s circumstances even after death! (student 2B)”

This analysis of the text adds to the textual examples above and continues to bring in new logic from the student.

When this format of a body paragraph is followed, then it is extremely effective. The essay becomes clear, assertive, and easy to follow for the examiners. Follow this rhetorical essay strategy and you are even closer to getting that 5 on the exam.

Rhetorical Essay Strategy #3: LORA

As you are looking at your AP English Language rhetorical essay prompt and passage it is important to remember the mnemonic device, LORA. LORA stands for Language, Organization, and Rhetorical Appeals. These elements will help you form your argument.

When you read through your passage you want to think about how the author is utilizing language. Is he or she using figurative language effectively? Is there imagery within the passage? Does the diction of the passage make it more rhetorically persuasive? You should not use all of these, but picking one and analyzing it clearly in one paragraph will keep you focused on how the author uses rhetoric, which is the main task of this essay.

An example of this was in the 2006AP English Language rhetorical essay. Student 2A begins his or her first body paragraph with, “One of Hazlitt’s most effective methods of promoting the importance of money is his strong diction (student 2A).” This student begins his or her essay with focusing on diction as how the language is used. He or she then goes on to explain why diction betters Hazlitt’s argument, which is exactly what you must do for your own rhetorical essay.

The organization of the author is the next part of your answer to the prompt. You want to look at how the author organized his or her ideas within the passage to support his or her own argument. By pointing out the organization, or structure, of the work and how it adds to the overall persuasiveness, you will bring two of the three most important elements of rhetoric together in your essay.

After organization you need to look at the rhetoric appeals. You may know them by the names logos, pathos, and ethos. It is suggested that you cover as many of these as possible; however, if time does not permit or if the passage uses one more than the other, then you should focus on one appeal.

One example of using pathos in an essay is from student 2A from the 2006 prompt. “Hazlitt plays on the audience’s heartstrings for more than enough time to convince them of the importance of having money (student 2A).” While it would have been better for the student to directly say that this is pathos, he or she does thoroughly explain the appeal to the passions, or pathos.

Key Takeaways

When taking the AP English Language rhetoric essay you just need to remember these three rhetorical essay strategies: dissect the prompt, follow the format, and always include LORA. If you can follow them, then you are already on your way to a 5 on the AP English Language exam.

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