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In the essay “On Compassion”, the author, Barbara Lazear Ascher analyzes the idea of compassion. She employs certain tactics and resources of styles such as rhetorical questions, selection of detail, pathos, and thoughtful tone to assert an overarching claim: compassion is not something humans are born with but is something that must be garnered throughout time.

Within the essay, Ascher draws in the audience through strings of questions after developing detailed scenes, evoking the audience’s thought process. She can introduce her potential claim by analyzing the idea of compassion through the actions of people in their everyday lives. An example of this would be when she first introduces the story of a mother and her baby being approached by a homeless man. The woman eventually hands a dollar to a homeless man, who then takes it and walks away. Archer notes in specific detail how the baby mother’s “ hands close tighter on the stroller handle as she sees the man approach”(Ascher 35). She details scenarios by which she questions whether or not the works of compassion are simply fake appearances that cover misguided reasons. This manifests and is described when a mother, whose intentions are to protect her child, “pushes the stroller before her, bearing the dollar like a cross”(Ascher 36). The specific detail emphasizes the situation and can provide insight into the character’s motives and decisions. Ascher then asks the question, “ Was it fear or compassion that motivated the gift?”(Ascher). This question may sound simple but is yet so intricate. Simple questions like these engage the reader further into her passage and make readers question themselves. This strategy that Ascher uses, allows the reader to put themselves in the shoes of someone else and question what was being driven by, or in this case, the woman, with her motives. Asher leaves the ends of women’s tribulations open to examination by the reader, doubting the true motives between these gestures of affection

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The acts of compassion are analyzed once again when the author introduces a new scenario and encounter with a homeless man with whom she stands and experiences. Ascher utilizes imagery to impart the scene; “an old man has wandered in and stood inside the entrance. He wears a stained blanket pulled up on his chin, and a woolen hood pulled down to his gray, bushy eyebrows. As he stands, the scent of cigarettes and urine fills the small, overheated room”(Archer). This detailed imagery, as well as the use of pathos, can allow the audience to visualize the man’s awful odor and feel compassion as well. Her imagery makes the smallest details of the homeless man come to life, implying the homeless man as a possible threat, or the innocent, starving man he could be. It also describes how the owner of the shop provides food to the homeless man and how the mayor decides to move the homeless off the streets and onto the hospital. Everybody responds to several things in various ways. These instances are prime examples of the various moments where one was faced with a small yet unlikely threat and responded with an act of kindness. In this case, offering money or food in exchange for assent.

Another way the Teacher communicates her message is through a thoughtful tone. At the beginning of the passage, she gives off a skeptical time, which may seem like she is shooting down the idea of compassion. This is apparent until the last couple of paragraphs where she binds together he thought and answers the many rhetorical questions she asked. Her undeniable thoughts help the audience remember her point that “raw humanity offends our sensibilities” (Asher 37). She also explains how she is incapable of denying the existence of any compassion in this world at all and reminds us that there are “many conditions that finally give birth to empathy the mother of compassion”(Ascher 37). The tone she forms comes together to form a thought-provoking essay on this unusual subject of compassion.

Ascher’s overarching claim which is substantiated with smaller claims deals with the exploits of compassion, as well as the motivations behind them. She employs a somber tone by becoming a third-party observer. She embellishes the different times she has observed numerous moments where someone is faced with a potential threat and retaliates the threat with an act of kindness to seek the true motives among these polite actions–fear or compassion. Her main purpose and overarching claim is to describe how empathy and compassion are born and can come from one’s different economic standards. The higher class or the rich, can see and feel what the poor are going through. This further explains how compassion isn’t something that one is born with but can be learned through experiences and can be taught throughout the years.

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