A Rhetorical Appeals Analysis of Liza Long’s “I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother”
Liza Long, the author of “I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother,” expresses her urge for public concern about mentally illness. In addition to that, she also wants to help people who are suffering from mental disorders and their families. For instance, the public should not just focus on the mentally ill peoples’ wrong-doings, but should also consider other factors.Long’s article resonates people’s experience. For example, people among the family of the mental illness, and those who does not have the similar miserable experience will have the same feelings. My paper analyzes Long’s article for the four rhetorical appeals: ethos, pathos, logos and kairos.
Liza Long focuses on a public concern about people who are living with or suffering from psychiatric disorder. She claims the article by narrating two incidents that happened between her and her 13-year old son, Michael. One morning, Michael called her “bitch” when she tried to persuade him to change the color of pants that met the school code. A few weeks before, they had an even worse confrontation. He broke into outrage when she asked him to return the over-due books. The incident aroused police engagement because of his threat of killing or hurting her. As a result, she had to keep all of the sharp objects from her son so that he would not use them to hurt himself or others. The police got him a prescription and scheduled an appointment with a psychiatrist for there was no vacancy at the mental hospital. He was not even diagnosed for a certain kind of mental disorder. Therefore, she did not even know where to start his treatment. After he shouted words like “kill myself” again, she was in great agony and left with no choice but to send him back to the mental hospital. She was desperate but efficient help was nowhere to be found. Many mothers of mentally ill children, who ended up doing something terrible to society, also encountered the difficult situation. It seems that except prison, Michael and other people share the same tragedy with him have nowhere to go. Mental health must be put to nation-wide discussion so that the problem can be solved.
Long provides the readers with vivid and appropriate language and authentic examples that evince the appeal of ethos. First, she picks simple but expressive words to achieve the best depiction, such as, “His face turned cold, and his eyes were full of calculated rage” (par. 14). “Calculated rage” describes Michael’s accumulated anger whenever his demand did not be get positive feedback. She uses the description to make readers to understand the mentally disorder people’s possible reactions. Another example, “After the knife incident, I told him that if he ever said those words again, I would take him straight to the mental hospital, no ifs, ands, or buts” (par. 15). As there was no alternative and no space for negotiation, she uses words “no ifs, ands, or buts” to illustrate her determination. These three words are simple, but they convey Long’s resolution and pain. She makes the connection to her readers by using language appropriately and this connection made readers believe what she wrote. Second, as a single mother with four kids, her story attracted the readers’ attention and sympathy. She starts the whole article by describing the pants incident between her and her son and she uses dialogues instead of plain narrations of the incident. Reading that dialogue between them give readers a sense of reality, other than reading a story that readers are not even sure if it is real. Third, Long’s appeal to ethos is demonstrated in her appropriate quotation of statistics and facts. These facts strengthen her credibility on the basis that she is a professional writer. Her article was published by a non-profit publisher Blue Review.
Long’s appeal to pathos does not only lie in her use of dialogue, but the details that resonates among the readers who do not have or even know nothing about this kind of mental illness. For example, “When he's in a good mood, he will gladly bend your ear on subjects ranging from Greek mythology to the differences between Einsteinian and Newtonian physics to Doctor Who” (par. 10). From this description, readers can see Michael is like an intelligent boy. The comparison is crucial because it reduces the potential fear and discrimination from people who have not make acquaintance to mentally ill people like Michael. Another example is, “no one wants to send a 13-year-old genius who loves Harry Potter and his snuggle animal collection to jail” (par. 32). “Harry Potter” and “snuggle animal collection” are the two things that most children love, these two specific examples offer readers a picture that Michael has common interests as the majority of his peers. The readers have a feeling that Michael is one of their cute cousins or friends and thoroughly abandon their prejudice towards people with mental illness after they read her article.
In her article, Long adopts several statistics, facts and opinions from credible sources to manifest the appeal of logos. She quotes important statistics from authorities to illustrate that many mental illnesses have no choice so they end up in jails. For example, “According to Human Rights Watch, the number of mentally ill inmates in U.S. prisons quadrupled from 2000 to 2006, and it continues to rise—in fact, the rate of inmate mental illness is five times greater (56 percent) than in the non-incarcerated population” (par. 30). Readers thus know the facts and the situations through factual data and statistics. “With state-run treatment centers and hospitals shuttered, prison is now the last resort for the mentally ill—Rikers Island, the LA County Jail and Cook County Jail in Illinois housed the nation's largest treatment centers in 2011” (par. 31). Her son’s counselor shared the same opinion: “When I asked my son's social worker about my options, he said that the only thing I could do was to get Michael charged with a crime. ‘If he's back in the system, they'll create a paper trail,’ he said. ‘That's the only way you're ever going to get anything done. No one will pay attention to you unless you've got charges’” (par. 29). The disappointing fact is that the mentally ill people are often sent to hospitals or jails due to public’s lack of understanding.
Long's article appeals to kairos that are culturally relevant to a social concern. In recent years, school shootings have happened in many countries. The typical perpetrator is often suffering from long-term mental illness, such as Adam Lanza. She wrote this article after the Sandyhook shooting incident that arouses public attention. At this certain period of time, her article is able to arise readers’ sympathy and reflection because of the sensitive timing. In her article, she also listed other six names in a group of parallel sentences: “I am sharing this story because I am Adam Lanza's mother. I am Dylan Klebold's and Eric Harris's mother. I am Jason Holmes's mother. I am Jared Loughner's mother. I am Seung-Hui Cho's mother. And these boys—and their mothers—need help” (par. 27). These are the names of whom have committed bloody wrong-doings because of their unstable mental situation. Unlike other articles that mainly focus on mourning the victims and denouncing the gun-control policy, Long triggers the public to obtain an objective attitude toward the dilemma of the mentally broken perpetrators--who are actually victims of imperfect system.
From the analysis of Long’s article, the four appeals are adopted cleverly and seamlessly in her writing. In general, most of people cannot achieve an ideal effect if people failed to arrange ideas with the “facts”(i.e. statistics, cited opinion) naturally. Most articles of this kind uses a rational tone, which even seems to be indifferent to describe a shooting incident and judge the government for their negligence, they list bunches of cold figures and charts simply to address the increasing criminal rate and the degradation of social environment. However, the combination of narration and argumentation is more powerful and affective. She combines facts with her own experience as the mother of a mentally ill child. She evokes the four appeals comprehensively and lays emphasis to pathos and logos, this is the essence which made her article outstanding.
In actual writing, people may find that it is difficult to include the four appeals to rhetoric at the same time. The key is to use some specific examples to support the main idea. Like Long does in her article, people must keep in mind that a really effective essay must integrate rational and emotional elements.
Liza, Long. “I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother.” Gawker.com. Kinja, 16 Dec. 2012. Web. 8 March. 2015.
Written by Liza Long, republished from The Blue Review
Friday’s horrific national tragedy -- the murder of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut -- has ignited a new discussion on violence in America. In kitchens and coffee shops across the country, we tearfully debate the many faces of violence in America: gun culture, media violence, lack of mental health services, overt and covert wars abroad, religion, politics and the way we raise our children. Liza Long, a writer based in Boise, says it’s easy to talk about guns. But it’s time to talk about mental illness.
While every family's story of mental illness is different, and we may never know the whole of the Lanzas' story, tales like this one need to be heard -- and families who live them deserve our help.
Three days before 20 year-old Adam Lanza killed his mother, then opened fire on a classroom full of Connecticut kindergartners, my 13-year old son Michael (name changed) missed his bus because he was wearing the wrong color pants.
“I can wear these pants,” he said, his tone increasingly belligerent, the black-hole pupils of his eyes swallowing the blue irises.
“They are navy blue,” I told him. “Your school’s dress code says black or khaki pants only.”
“They told me I could wear these,” he insisted. “You’re a stupid bitch. I can wear whatever pants I want to. This is America. I have rights!”
“You can’t wear whatever pants you want to,” I said, my tone affable, reasonable. “And you definitely cannot call me a stupid bitch. You’re grounded from electronics for the rest of the day. Now get in the car, and I will take you to school.”
I live with a son who is mentally ill. I love my son. But he terrifies me.
A few weeks ago, Michael pulled a knife and threatened to kill me and then himself after I asked him to return his overdue library books. His 7 and 9 year old siblings knew the safety plan -- they ran to the car and locked the doors before I even asked them to. I managed to get the knife from Michael, then methodically collected all the sharp objects in the house into a single Tupperware container that now travels with me. Through it all, he continued to scream insults at me and threaten to kill or hurt me.
That conflict ended with three burly police officers and a paramedic wrestling my son onto a gurney for an expensive ambulance ride to the local emergency room. The mental hospital didn’t have any beds that day, and Michael calmed down nicely in the ER, so they sent us home with a prescription for Zyprexa and a follow-up visit with a local pediatric psychiatrist.
We still don’t know what’s wrong with Michael. Autism spectrum, ADHD, Oppositional Defiant or Intermittent Explosive Disorder have all been tossed around at various meetings with probation officers and social workers and counselors and teachers and school administrators. He’s been on a slew of antipsychotic and mood altering pharmaceuticals, a Russian novel of behavioral plans. Nothing seems to work.
At the start of seventh grade, Michael was accepted to an accelerated program for highly gifted math and science students. His IQ is off the charts. When he’s in a good mood, he will gladly bend your ear on subjects ranging from Greek mythology to the differences between Einsteinian and Newtonian physics to Doctor Who. He’s in a good mood most of the time. But when he’s not, watch out. And it’s impossible to predict what will set him off.
Several weeks into his new junior high school, Michael began exhibiting increasingly odd and threatening behaviors at school. We decided to transfer him to the district’s most restrictive behavioral program, a contained school environment where children who can’t function in normal classrooms can access their right to free public babysitting from 7:30-1:50 Monday through Friday until they turn 18.
The morning of the pants incident, Michael continued to argue with me on the drive. He would occasionally apologize and seem remorseful. Right before we turned into his school parking lot, he said, “Look, Mom, I’m really sorry. Can I have video games back today?”
“No way,” I told him. “You cannot act the way you acted this morning and think you can get your electronic privileges back that quickly.”
His face turned cold, and his eyes were full of calculated rage. “Then I’m going to kill myself,” he said. “I’m going to jump out of this car right now and kill myself.”
That was it. After the knife incident, I told him that if he ever said those words again, I would take him straight to the mental hospital, no ifs, ands, or buts. I did not respond, except to pull the car into the opposite lane, turning left instead of right.
“Where are you taking me?” he said, suddenly worried. “Where are we going?”
“You know where we are going,” I replied.
“No! You can’t do that to me! You’re sending me to hell! You’re sending me straight to hell!”
I pulled up in front of the hospital, frantically waiving for one of the clinicians who happened to be standing outside. “Call the police,” I said. “Hurry.”
Michael was in a full-blown fit by then, screaming and hitting. I hugged him close so he couldn’t escape from the car. He bit me several times and repeatedly jabbed his elbows into my rib cage. I’m still stronger than he is, but I won’t be for much longer.
The police came quickly and carried my son screaming and kicking into the bowels of the hospital. I started to shake, and tears filled my eyes as I filled out the paperwork -- “Were there any difficulties with… at what age did your child… were there any problems with.. has your child ever experienced.. does your child have…”
At least we have health insurance now. I recently accepted a position with a local college, giving up my freelance career because when you have a kid like this, you need benefits. You’ll do anything for benefits. No individual insurance plan will cover this kind of thing.
For days, my son insisted that I was lying -- that I made the whole thing up so that I could get rid of him. The first day, when I called to check up on him, he said, “I hate you. And I’m going to get my revenge as soon as I get out of here.”
By day three, he was my calm, sweet boy again, all apologies and promises to get better. I’ve heard those promises for years. I don’t believe them anymore.
On the intake form, under the question, “What are your expectations for treatment?” I wrote, “I need help.”
And I do. This problem is too big for me to handle on my own. Sometimes there are no good options. So you just pray for grace and trust that in hindsight, it will all make sense.
I am sharing this story because I am Adam Lanza’s mother. I am Dylan Klebold’s and Eric Harris’s mother. I am James Holmes’s mother. I am Jared Loughner’s mother. I am Seung-Hui Cho’s mother. And these boys—and their mothers—need help. In the wake of another horrific national tragedy, it’s easy to talk about guns. But it’s time to talk about mental illness.
According to Mother Jones, since 1982, 61 mass murders involving firearms have occurred throughout the country. Of these, 43 of the killers were white males, and only one was a woman. Mother Jones focused on whether the killers obtained their guns legally (most did). But this highly visible sign of mental illness should lead us to consider how many people in the U.S. live in fear, like I do.
When I asked my son’s social worker about my options, he said that the only thing I could do was to get Michael charged with a crime. “If he’s back in the system, they’ll create a paper trail,” he said. “That’s the only way you’re ever going to get anything done. No one will pay attention to you unless you’ve got charges.”
I don’t believe my son belongs in jail. The chaotic environment exacerbates Michael’s sensitivity to sensory stimuli and doesn’t deal with the underlying pathology. But it seems like the United States is using prison as the solution of choice for mentally ill people. According to Human Rights Watch, the number of mentally ill inmates in U.S. prisons quadrupled from 2000 to 2006, and it continues to rise -- in fact, the rate of inmate mental illness is five times greater (56 percent) than in the non-incarcerated population.
With state-run treatment centers and hospitals shuttered, prison is now the last resort for the mentally ill -- Rikers Island, the LA County Jail and Cook County Jail in Illinois housed the nation’s largest treatment centers in 2011.
No one wants to send a 13-year old genius who loves Harry Potter and his snuggle animal collection to jail. But our society, with its stigma on mental illness and its broken healthcare system, does not provide us with other options. Then another tortured soul shoots up a fast food restaurant. A mall. A kindergarten classroom. And we wring our hands and say, “Something must be done.”
I agree that something must be done. It’s time for a meaningful, nation-wide conversation about mental health. That’s the only way our nation can ever truly heal.
God help me. God help Michael. God help us all.
(Originally published at The Anarchist Soccer Mom.)