"The Perils of Indifference": a Rhetorical Analysis

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Elie Wiesel's speech, "The Perils of Indifference," delivered in 1999, masterfully employs rhetorical strategies to convey
his message about the dangers of apathy and the imperative of taking action against injustice. Addressing an audience
gathered at the White House, Wiesel draws upon his personal experiences as a Holocaust survivor to evoke a sense of moral
obligation. This rhetorical analysis essay examines the key elements used in the speech, including ethos, pathos, and logos, to
analyze how Wiesel effectively captures his audience's attention, appeals to their emotions, and persuades them to
confront the perils of indifference.

Ethos: Establishing Credibility

Personal Authority: Wiesel begins by establishing his ethos as a credible speaker. He draws on his
identity as a survivor of the Holocaust, a Nobel laureate, and a witness to atrocities, positioning himself as an
authoritative source on the consequences of indifference.

Historical Perspective: Wiesel's historical references and vivid descriptions of the Holocaust provide
context and depth to his argument. By grounding his speech in real-world events, he enhances his credibility and
underscores the urgency of his message.

Pathos: Emotional Appeal

Evoking Empathy: Wiesel employs powerful anecdotes and personal stories to evoke empathy and emotional
resonance in his audience. By sharing individual stories of suffering, he humanizes the victims and makes the audience
more receptive to his call for action.

Creating Awe and Reverence: Wiesel's eloquent language and somber tone evoke feelings of awe and
reverence. He describes historical figures and events with solemnity, drawing the audience into the gravity of his
message and compelling them to reflect on the consequences of indifference.

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Logos: Logical Argument

Convincing Reasoning: Wiesel builds a logical argument by examining the consequences of indifference in
historical and contemporary contexts. He emphasizes that indifference enables atrocities to persist and highlights the
long-term impact of inaction.

Moral Imperative: Wiesel frames indifference as a moral issue, arguing that humanity has a responsibility
to prevent suffering and injustice. He appeals to the audience's sense of ethics and emphasizes that they have the power
to effect change through their choices.

Repetition and Parallelism

Strategic Repetition: Wiesel uses repetition of key phrases, such as "indifference is not a response" and
"indifference, after all, is more dangerous than anger and hatred," to drive home his central message. The repetition
reinforces the urgency of his plea and helps the audience remember his key points.

Parallel Structure: Throughout the speech, Wiesel employs parallel structure, listing examples of
indifference and their consequences. This technique enhances the speech's rhythm, making it more engaging and impactful,
while also emphasizing the widespread nature of the problem.

Call to Action

Empowering the Audience: Wiesel concludes his speech with a call to action, urging the audience to combat
indifference and actively work towards a more compassionate world. He empowers his listeners by suggesting that small
acts of kindness can collectively make a significant impact.

Appeal to Conscience: Wiesel's call to action appeals to the audience's conscience and sense of duty. He
challenges them to reflect on their own choices and to choose empathy and action over indifference.


"The Perils of Indifference" is a masterclass in rhetorical persuasion. Elie Wiesel effectively employs ethos, pathos,
and logos to captivate his audience and compel them to recognize the dangers of indifference. Through his use of
emotional anecdotes, historical references, and logical argument, Wiesel paints a vivid picture of the consequences of
apathy. By combining rhetorical strategies with his personal authority, he empowers his listeners to take a stand
against injustice and indifference, challenging them to become agents of change.


  • Wiesel, E. (1999). The Perils of Indifference. Speech delivered at the Millennium Lecture Series, The White House,
    Washington, D.C.
  • Kopelson, K. (2001). Elie Wiesel and the Politics of Moral Leadership. Temple University Press.
  • Kramp, M. A. (2007). Coming to Terms with Indifference: The Rhetoric of Elie Wiesel's Nobel Prize Acceptance
    Speech. Rhetoric Review, 26(2), 165-184.
  • Labrie, R. P. (2007). Silence, Postmemory, and the Dialogic Work of Echo in Elie Wiesel's Testimonial Rhetoric.
    Philosophy & Rhetoric, 40(4), 389-409.
  • McCadden, J. (2011). Witnessing and Transcendence: The Ethics of Communicating the Holocaust. Lexington Books.
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