Bryan Stevenson’s Use Of Ethos, Pathos, And Logos In Just Mercy
In chapter one of Just Mercy, author and lawyer Bryan Stevenson describes the history of racism in the south and the continued biases of the court system using the case of Walter Mcmillian. Employing ethos, pathos, and logos, Stevenson makes a strong appeal towards his claims.
Chapter one begins with Stevenson receiving a phone call from a Judge, named Robert E Lee Key. Judge Key tried to persuade Bryan not to take the case of Walter McMillian a black man accused of murder. He said that Walter was a known drug dealer and a member of the Dixie mafia. During that time Alabama had nearly 100 people on death row as well as the fastest growing condemned population. In 1988, Bryan and his friend Eva Ansley found a way to receive federal funding to start a nonprofit organization to represent people on death row. During their first meeting Walter is very insistent that he is innocent of the alleged murder. Stevenson then goes into detail about Walter’s life highlighting that he is from Monroeville Alabama, the same place where the book To kill a mockingbird took place. The story about a black man who was falsely accused of rape and the white lawyer who unsuccessfully defends him. Walter grew up picking cotton, and borrowed money to start his own logging and paper mill business. Because of his success, Walter gained admiration and respect, but it also made people jealous and suspicious. Although He was successful, he also had flaws. He was a known ladies’ man and was involved with other women. Walter soon started seeing Karen Kelly, a white woman who was 18 years younger than him. She was also married and loved to show off her “friendship” with Walter. Soon Karen’s husband found out about the affair and even though they were getting a divorce her relationship with a black man became a town scandal. Having an interracial affair ruined Walter’s reputation. A few weeks later a body is found of a woman named Rhonda Morrison and the community is shocked. At the same time Walter is trying to break up with Karen, who has started abusing drugs with her new friend Ralph Myers. Myers and Kelly are also under investigation in the murder of another woman, named Vickie Pittman. Ralph firsts denies any involvement then offers a confession saying that he. Karen and Walter collaborated in not only killing Vickie, but Rhonda too.
Stevenson uses logos, building his reliability as well as providing readers with solid evidence of what he says. He states “ the state had nearly a hundred people on death row as well as the fastest growing condemned population in the country, but it had no public defender system”. Stevenson highlights the irony of Monroeville as both the setting for Walter’s wrongful conviction and the birthplace of Harper Lee’s To kill a mockingbird. The similarities between Walter’s case and the novel are unmistakably alike. Yet the town is very reluctant to speak out and face the “harder truths”. Stevenson then begins to summarize the history of racial bias in Monroeville. He says that “Monroe county had been developed in the nineteenth century for the production cotton. By the 1950s small cotton farming was less profitable and the economy changed over to paper mills”. When discussing the interracial affair between Karen Kelly and Walter McMillian, he explains why it was such a big topic in Alabama. He says that “the state ban on interracial marriage in Alabama continued into the twenty-first century,” and McMillian and Kelly met in 1986. Thus, this helps the readers to understand key concepts of the book, as well as acknowledge that Stevenson is a trustworthy author and lawyer.
Stevenson employs ethos through the discussion of his personal experiences, which not only adds to the credibility of Just Mercy, but it also provides insight on how bias can take place for someone who is not incarcerated. Stevenson describes in a later chapter the time when two officers came up to him unexpectedly and pointed a gun at him. They then checked his car illegally. Stevenson says that “I knew that he had no probable cause to enter my vehicle and that he was conducting an illegal search”. However, Stevenson didn’t say anything to them because he thought it would be “pointless” since they were already breaking the rules. By sharing the events that took place in his personal life, Stevenson shows that he himself is a victim of racial prejudice and that he understands what other victims feel when they go through this. He builds his integrity as an author because he persuades his readers to believe his claims because he doesn’t just talk about racism in society, he’s seen and experienced it.
Stevenson’s use of pathos is used very heavily throughout the chapter. Stevenson leads into the story of Walter’s life and the trial as well as the history of his hometown. He highlights the irony of Monroeville being both the setting of Walter’s conviction and the birthplace of to kill a mockingbird. Stevenson’s use of pathos builds an emotional connection between the readers Walter. By giving a background summary Stevenson shows the audience that the accused are human beings too.
Throughout Just Mercy, Stevenson successfully employs pathos, logos, and ethos to portray his views on the history of racism in the south and the continued biases of the court system He uses these tools to audience on the same page as him and to show them his point of view, supported by evidence and by background history of the convicts. Moreover, Stevenson uses these devices in an effective manner, illustrating problems in the U.S. Justice System.
- Stevenson, Bryan. Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption. First edition. New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2014.
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