A Letter to My Students as We Face the Pandemic Analysis


Having to learn in an educational institution while in a pandemic is not something that everyone can say that they’ve been through. In light of the coronavirus pandemic that has now spanned for a little over a year, this is the reality of many students. Many scholars struggle to productively and efficiently receive and retain the information they are being given and most are just overall disheartened with the consequences of the virus such as numerous deaths and restrictions. Not many people, however, realize just how hard and difficult it is for these students. However, George Saunders, a Creative Writing teacher at Syracuse University, does, writing a letter to his students, titled “A Letter to My Students as We Face the Pandemic”. Incorporating informal and lighthearted diction along with applicable examples, Saunders adopts a more open and playful tone that allows him to establish pathos and reliability while also allowing his students to recognize his attempt at providing support and optimism as he urges them to use the pandemic to better themselves.

 Specifically, it was through the use of informal language that he was able to establish pathos which then helps strengthen his relationship with his students as it helps build his relatability with them as it shows that he understands them. Throughout the entire piece, Saunders utilizes slang words such as “Jeez” and “Moron!”, oftentimes abandoning the use of conventional English grammar in favor of one that mirrors that of his students when he says phrases such as “I real quick” instead of “I quickly”. Slang is oftentimes used to show status within a certain group of people or an understanding of pop culture. In this circumstance, Saunders is attempting to connect more with his students, who one can only infer are much younger than him. Although this may turn his students off as they may see it as their teacher trying too hard to fit in, most and even those in the earlier group, may find it endearing that their teacher is taking the time to make them feel comfortable, making them more open to listening to what he as to say.

However, it isn’t just this use of slang and informal words that puts Saunder’s students at ease but rather his specific choice of words that create a more lighthearted and accepting environment and tone. Respectfully, it was his transition from using “We” in the first half of his letter, to “you” as he draws closer to the end. “We” symbolizes the unity and collectivism between Saunders and his class. He starts off reminding them that they are not alone in this struggle, that he is also struggling, and that it is better to go through the motions together rather than alone, an idea that he later reinforces in his closing paragraph where he opens up the floor to the students, telling them that he is always available to them whenever and wherever. But by then going on to replace the “we” with “you”, Saunders is bringing back the focus to the students. He recognizes that the experience that the students are facing is starkly different from his, which is why he stops including himself in the equation. The students reading the letter will realize that he does understand that there is an individuality to each of their struggles and that he recognizes that they're all going through it making them feel like a safe space has been created.

Along with language, Saunders uses examples to help his students visualize how to view the pandemic optimistically. One of these examples is in the form of a simile, in which Saunders compares the world to a sleeping tiger with humans on its back. Using this analogy, he describes the coronavirus's consequences to the tiger waking up and wreaking havoc, something that has been happening since the beginning of time. However what people should do is become "writers to observe it and (later) make some sort of sense of it, or at least bear witness to it". Backing this up he gives the example of Anna Akhmatova, a Russian poet, who much urged by a woman next to her in line of those waiting to receive news of imprisoned loved ones, decided to write about living during the Stalinist purges. By compressing his message into absorbable examples, Saunders students are once again able to digest his suggestions and possibly even be compelled to do them.

Using his extensive knowledge of rhetorical strategies and the English language itself, Saunders successfully extends support to his students during bleak times and manages to raise their optimism by proposing ways in which they use this hindrance to their advantage by bulking up on their writing skills. His ability to weave in relevant examples along with informal language allows him to attend to his students so that they can fully appreciate his message.

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