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Burns 1 Andrew Burns AP Language and Composition Mr. Girard December 13, 2008 Rhetorical Analysis of William Hazlitt’s “On the Want of Money” I'm sure that William Hazlitt would find the relationship twenty-first century Americans have toward money quite amusing. We preach that money is “the root of all evil” and that “it cannot buy happiness” yet we cheer the game show contestants and look enviously upon the luxurious celebrity lifestyle. To Hazlitt, money isn't the food of the devil or the sole corrupter, but a necessary ingredient in a comfortable and prosperous life. With his colorful word choice and creative syntactical structures, Hazlitt's “On the Want of Money” shows that a “want of money” is certainly the fount of much sorrow. Hazlitt conveys the vital nature of money and its essentialness through his word choice. “Literally and truly, one cannot get on well in the world without money.” The “literally and truly,” are set apart from the rest of the rest of the sentence, acting as an emphatic introduction to the text. Either word, taken alone, would convey the meaning of the sentence, but Hazlitt's use of both makes them stand out, stressing and elongating the vowels in each word. With these words, Hazlitt hopes to separate the ideal from the real. While ideally, it should be easy to get on well in the world without money, in reality, it is hardly easy to get on well with money, let alone without it. So he fills his piece with highly “real” and “visceral” vocabulary to convey the hardships that accompany a state of impoverishment: “carped out and doubted,” “disparaged,” “an exile,” “precarious and irksome,” “laborious,” “distress of mind and fortune,” “assailed,” “chagrin and disappointment,” “jostled,” “burdened,” “ashamed,” “crabbed, morose and querulous.” In their totality, the words present a feeling of rejection at every level, destitution. It is not that the want of money makes life difficult solely from a need stand point, but that the want also taints the perception others have of an individual. To Hazlitt, when the moneyed look upon the poor, they “doubt” and “disparage” them because they see money as


Burns 2 a measure of class and when Hazlitt uses the word “despised” to express the emotion that the moneyed have toward the impoverished, he is referring to the general position of upper-class British society in Hazlitt's time: the poor are poor because they ought to be poor, the rich are entitled to be rich. It is this dual nature of poverty, both the degradation and privation, that Hazlitt addresses in his piece, alternating between the two throughout: “carped and doubted” (degradation) then “precarious and irksome livelihood” (privation). It is not merely through words that Hazlitt presents his message on the necessity of money but through his syntactical structure. His sentences are long and highly segmented, the entire excerpt consisting of only three. The segmentation of the passage mirrors the segregation that Hazlitt notes as accompanying poverty, the segregation that leads one to be “an exile in one's own country.” Each sentence, in its complex, highly structured form, hearkens the difficult obstacles that the “want of money” can present as well as the “lengthening” privation brings to the perception of life. The piece is moved along with the anaphoric repetition of “it is,” “to” and “to be,” each one refining the “it,” that being “the want of money.” The repetition is such that it almost acts like a beating heart, beginning after the first sentence, pulsing faithfully throughout the second sentence until it “flat lines” right before the third sentence when the impoverished person has found a place to “quit the world without any one's asking after [his] will.” Indeed, Hazlitt's piece is like a story, featuring the reader as a character and detailing the events that would transpire if one were in want of money. It begins with the birth (“to be despised if you come into it”), continues with marriage (“marry your landlady”), then employment (“stand behind a counter,” “public office,” “judge,” “scrivener,” “scavenger,” “newspaper reporter,” “read law”, “transcribing Greek manuscripts”, “try some of the Fine Arts”), then old age (“ashamed to venture into crowds,” “lose by degrees any confidence and any talent you might possess,” “grow crabbed, morose, and querulous”) and ends with death (“a place to die,” “your will,” “your coffin”). This structure makes the piece immersive and transcends the standard essay style. Hazlitt sees money as requisite for a comfortable life. As opposed to being the evil root, Hazlitt


Burns 3 sees that the lack of money is actually the root of many personal and societal evils. If one feels like an exile from his own country, what does he owe to his fellow man? Not much. While it might have in reality been an attempt at satire, as evident from the final lines about “wiseacres...commemorat[ing] your genius and misfortunes!” it still proves very true and very effective. The structure, parallel and chronological, makes it fun to read and allows the mind to follow the general course of a want of money from birth to death. Just like the Prohibition-era “a drink with friends” to “suicide,” this is “an impoverished birth” to “crabbed, morose, querulous, suicidal, and dead.”

Rhetorical Analysis of William Hazlitt’s “On the Want of Money”  

Rhetorical analysis of William Hazlitt's "On the Want of Money"