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Pathos Analysis Exercise
following is an excerpt from Macaulay's account of
the "Black Hole of
Calcutta." It recounts the treatment captured British soldiers
faced at the hands of enemy troops in North India. Read it,
and think about how Macaulay attempts to utilize pathos
to create a rhetorical effect. What is the implied argument
Macaulay makes by focusing on this historical event?
Then was committed
that great crime, memorable for its singular atrocity,
memorable for the tremendous retribution by which
it was followed. The English captives were left
to the mercy of the guards, and the guards determined
to secure them for the night in the prison of the
garrison, a chamber known by the fearful name of
the Black Hole. Even for a single European malefactor,
that dungeon would, in such a climate, have been
too close and narrow. The space was only twenty
feet square. The air-holes small and obstructed.
It was the summer solstice, the season when the
fierce heat of Bengal can scarcely be rendered tolerable
to natives of England by lofty halls and by the
constant waving of fans. The number of the prisoners
was one hundred and forty-six. When they were ordered
to enter the cell, they imagined that the soldiers
were joking; and, being in high spirits on account
of the promise of the Nabob1
to spare their lives, they laughed and jested at
the absurdity of the notion. They soon discovered
their mistake. They expostulated; they entreated;
but in vain. The guards threatened to cut down all
who hesitated. The captives were driven into the
cell at the point of the sword, and the door was
instantly shut and locked upon them.
Nothing in history
or fiction, not even the story that Ugolino2 told
in the sea of everlasting ice, after he had wiped
his bloody lips on the scalp of his murderer,
approaches the horrors which were recounted by
the few survivors of that night. They cried for
They strove to burst the door. Holwell, who, even
in that extremity, retained some presence of mind,
offered large bribes to the gaolers. But the answer
was that nothing could be done without the Nabob's
orders, that the Nabob was asleep, and that he
be angry if anybody woke him. Then the prisoners
went mad with despair. They trampled each other
down, fought for the places at the windows, fought
for the pittance of water with which the cruel
of the murderers mocked their agonies, raved, prayed,
blasphemed, implored the guards to fire among them.
The gaolers in the meantime held lights to the
and shouted with laughter at the frantic struggles
of their victims. At length the tumult died away
in low gaspings and moanings. The day broke. The
Nabob had slept off his debauch, and permitted
door to be opened. But it was some time before
the soldiers could make a lane for the survivors,
piling up on each side the heaps of corpses on
which the burning climate had already begun to
loathsome work. When at length a passage was made,
twenty-three ghastly figures, such as their own
mothers would not have known, staggered one by
out of the charnel-house. A pit was instantly dug.
The dead bodies, a hundred and twenty-three in
were flung into it promiscuously and covered up.
--From Thomas Babington
Macaulay, "Lord Clive," Critical
and Historical Essays, 1843.
The leader of the Indian forces rebelling against
the British Raj. --KW
Macaulay alludes to the description of an icy layer
of hell found in Dante's Inferno, Canto 30.
In Dante's account, the soul of Ugolino describes
how enemy forces locked him in a tower with his
children to starve the family to death. Ugolino
ended up cannibalizing his offspring, and was condemned
to hell along with his persecutors. There, the group
spent eternity frozen up to the neck in ice, with
Ugolino gnawing on the head of his chief enemy.
1) How big
is the Black Hole of Calcutta? How many prisoners
are kept in it?
2) Note the places
where Macaulay uses hyperbole to create overblown
description. Note the places where he does not use
it, but merely states facts. How do these two types
of writing both create emotional effects?
3) How does the
oxymoron "cruel mercy" have a rhetorical effect
as well as a decorative one?
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