Understanding Assertion as a Literary Device

Assertion is a stylistic device employed in literature when a person makes a statement with unwavering belief, presenting it as true, even if it lacks concrete proof. It involves a forceful and confident declaration of a belief or fact, often without substantiation. The purpose of assertion is to express ideas or emotions directly. For example, "I have put my every effort into completing this task today."

Types of Assertion

Assertion can be categorized into four types:

1. Basic Assertion

Basic assertion involves simple and straightforward statements expressing feelings, opinions, and beliefs. Examples include:

"I wish I could have expressed this idea earlier, because now someone else has taken the credit."

"Excuse me, first I want to finish my work, then I shall go with you."

2. Emphatic Assertion

Emphatic assertion conveys sympathy to someone and typically consists of two parts: first, acknowledging the other person's feelings or situation, and second, expressing support for their viewpoint, emotions, or rights. Examples include:

"I understand you are busy, and I am too, but it is difficult for me to finish this project on my own. So, I want you to help me complete this project."

"I know this is making you angry and frustrated because you have not gotten a response yet. But I can help you by giving you an estimate of how long it might take."

3. Escalating Assertion

Escalating assertion occurs when someone becomes firm in response to another person's basic assertions, often due to the inability to provide a satisfactory response. Examples include:

"If you do not finish this work by 6:00 tonight, I will engage the services of another worker."

"I really want to finish this point before you start yours."

4. Language Assertion

Language assertion involves the use of the first-person pronoun "I" and is particularly useful for expressing negative feelings constructively. It places emphasis on a person's emotions, as shown in examples like:

"When you speak harshly, I cannot work with you because I feel annoyed. Therefore, I want you to speak nicely and then assign me a task."

"When I don't get enough sleep, it affects my nerves and I feel irritated. Therefore, I try to go to bed earlier."

Examples of Assertion in Literature

Example #1: Animal Farm (By George Orwell)

"It's no longer needed, comrade … In Beasts of England we expressed our longing for a better society in days to come. However, that society has now been established. Clearly this song has no longer any purpose."

In George Orwell's "Animal Farm," the pigs use assertion as a propaganda tool to maintain control and prevent dissent. Squealer asserts that the song "Beasts of England" is no longer needed, convincing the other animals without opposition.

Example #2: Pride and Prejudice (By Jane Austen)

"I am a gentleman's daughter."

"I am … resolved."

"… to act in that manner, which will, in my own opinion, constitute my happiness, without reference to you, or to any person so wholly unconnected with me."

In Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice," Elizabeth Bennet employs assertion when defending her family's background and asserting her independence from societal norms, making her own choices despite objections.

Example #3: Cherry Orchard (By Anton Chekhov)

"… a soon-to-be-millionaire," and "a beast of prey."

"the only thing to do is work."

In Anton Chekhov's "Cherry Orchard," Trofimov uses assertion to challenge societal norms and express his views on the value of work and the shortcomings of Russian intellectuals.

Example #4: Othello (By William Shakespeare)

"I never did Offend you in my life, never loved Cassio But with such general warranty of heaven As I might love. I never gave him token."

In William Shakespeare's "Othello," Desdemona makes an assertion of her innocence when confronted by Othello's accusations, vehemently denying any wrongdoing despite the dire consequences.

Function of Assertion

The function of assertion in literature is to persuade readers or audiences to accept the statement or belief presented without dispute. It conveys the idea that the assertion is an undeniable fact that should not be challenged. Writers use assertion as a powerful tool to express their personal beliefs, emotions, and ideas directly. This rhetorical style is commonly employed in various fields, including literature, politics, advertisements, and legal matters.

Assertion serves several key purposes:

1. Conveying Beliefs: Writers use assertion to express their personal beliefs and opinions forcefully, leaving little room for doubt or disagreement.

2. Defending Rights and Feelings: Assertion allows writers to defend the rights and emotions of individuals when they have been violated or disregarded.

3. Self-Affirmation: It provides a means for writers to assert their self-worth and self-respect, often in the face of opposition or criticism.

4. Direct Expression: Assertion enables direct and straightforward expression of ideas and emotions, making it a compelling and impactful rhetorical device.

Assertion is a prevalent and influential technique used by writers to convey their thoughts and emotions while leaving a lasting impression on their audience.

Let's Talk About It

Have you encountered assertion as a literary device in your reading? Can you think of instances in literature, politics, or advertising where assertion was used to persuade or convey a message effectively? Share your thoughts and examples in the comments below.

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