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Rhetorical Questions

1. What is it?

A rhetorical question is a question that doesn’t need or want an answer. This is because the person asking the question already knows the answer and is using the question to make a point.

2. Why use it?

Make a point or emphasis an opinion, particularly when in conversation.Exclaim annoyance, disgust or other other emotions to one’s self.
Help the audience understand a characters thought process within a play.Express a poet’s inner thought within a poem.

3. Examples

“You did what? What the hell? Are you crazy?”


‘Why am I such an idiot?’ Brian asked as he studied his drunken phone messages from the night before.


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He asked her whether she wanted to go. Did she want to go? Does the sun rise each morning? Do the stars shine in the night skies? Does a heart yearn for love and a mind for knowledge? Yet she did not wish to appear too keen. With the casual eyes of the disengaged teen, she looked at him with minimal interest and maximum disguise.


“Yeah, sure”, she said. Then she picked up her phone and paid him no attention more.

4. Examples in literature

The Fall
by Albert Camus

Know Your Book

Title: La Chute (*trans: The Fall)
Author: Albert Camus (1913-1960)
Published: 1956
Language: French
Genre: Fiction; philosophical novel
Plot: A lawyer believes he is living a moral life helping unfortunate people in the legal system. However, three incidents in everyday life make him doubt his benevolence. He begins to suspect his acts of goodwill are actually methods of gaining power and recognition from others. Convinced he is actually a hypocrite, he starts to embrace debauchery.
Setting: Amsterdam, 1930s-1940s
Characters: Jean-Baptiste Clamence

Excerpt from Chapter 6 (translated from French):

I’m embarrassed to receive you lying down. It’s nothing: a slight temperature that I’m treating with gin. I’m used to this particular fever: malaria, I think, which I picked up when I was pope. No, I’m only half joking. I know what you think: it’s hard to distinguish what’s true and what’s false in the the things I say. I have to confess you’re right. Even I myself…Look, someone I used to know would divide people into three categories: those who prefer to have nothing to hide rather than being obliged to lie; those who prefer to lie rather than have nothing to hide; and finally those who like lying and concealing at the same time.  
I’ll let you choose which category fits me best.
What does it matter, after all? Don’t lies in the end put us on the path to truth? And don’t my stories, true or false, point to the same conclusion? Don’t they have the same meaning? So, what does it matter whether they are true or false if, in either case, they signify what I have been and what I am? One can sometimes see more clearly in a person who is lying than in one who is telling the truth. Like light, truth dazzles. Untruth, on the other hand, is a beautiful dusk that enhances everything. Finally, take this how you like, I was called ‘pope’ in a prison camp.

Skimming, Scanning and Basic Comprehension

1. With what is the narrator treating his illness?
2. What reasons does the narrator give for saying it doesn’t matter whether he is a liar or not?
3. In what climate does this story most likely occur? Which word hints at this? 
Identifying Techniques

4. In what narrative voice is The Fall told? Why do you think this voice was chosen?
5. Underline the simile used in the passage.
6. The second paragraph uses a series of rhetorical questions. Highlight these.
7. In the second paragraph the narrator tries to convince the reader that his lies are worth hearing. Of the three manners of persuasion (ethos, logos, and pathos), which do you feel he is using? 
Text Analysis

8. The character mentions ‘pope’ twice. What effect does the first use have? How is the second use different?
9. Camus makes the protagonist particularly cynical about life. Which words, phrases or sentences suggest cynicism towards the outside world?
10. The passage establishes elements of self-doubt, self-deprecation and self-hatred in the narrator, which are important later in the story. Which words or phrases suggest the narrator is not happy with who he is? 
Provoking Opinion

11. The narrator lists three types of people. Which type do you think he is? Why?
12. Is it Ok to lie when telling a story? Is this behaviour you have ever done?
13. The narrator is ill, unreliable, self-obsessed and cynical. Why do you think Camus wants to create this type of narrator?
14. Camus’s writing is famously depressing. However, rather than being nihilistic, it is absurdist. What is the difference between these two ideas? Do you believe either of them has any merit?

Don Quixote
by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra

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Title: El ingenioso hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha (*trans: The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha)
Author: Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (1835-1910)
Published: 1605 (Part One), 1615 (Part Two)
Language: Spanish
Genre: Fiction; novel; comic novel; social commentary
Plot: Alonso Quixano decides he will become a knight errant, wandering the land looking for adventure to prove his virtue. Renamed Don Quixote, he gains a partner named Sancho and begins a mildly deluded adventure in which he imagines prostitutes, inn keepers, goat herders and slaves must be saved. As the insane adventures pile up, the knight creates a life in which chivalry, injury, insanity, and the possibility of being arrested combine.
Setting: La Mancha
Characters: Don Quixote; Sancho Panza

Excerpt from Part Two, Chapter V (translated from Spanish):

While master and squire were conversing, they heard loud shouts and a great noise, which came from the men on the mares as they galloped shouting to receive the bride and bridegroom, who were approaching surrounded by countless musical instruments and festive pageantry, and accompanied by the priest, the relatives of both, and the notabilities from the neighbouring villages, all dressed up in their finery. When Sancho saw the bride, he cried: ‘By my faith she’s not dressed like a farmer’s daughter but like a fine court lady! Lord bless us, as far as I can make out, the necklace she is wearing is of rich coral, and her green Cuenca stuff is thirty-pile velvet; and mark the trimming of white linen, I swear it’s satin! Now have a look at her hands – are they not adorned with rings? – may I be struck dumb if they’re not rings of gold, genuine gold, and set with pearls as white as curdled milk, every one of them worth an eye out of one’s head! Whoreson wench, what tresses she has! If they’re not false, I’ve never seen longer or more golden all the days of my life. Now see how gallantly she carries herself, and mark her figure! Wouldn’t you compare her to a palm tree moving along laden with bunches of dates? That’s what the baubles look like which she’s wearing, dangling from her hair and her throat. ‘Pon my soul, I swear she’s a bonny lass, she’ll sail on an even keel through the shoals of Flanders.”
Don Quixote laughed at Sancho’s naive and rustic words of praise, but he thought that, with the exception of his Lady Dulcinea de Toboso, he had never seen a more beautiful woman. The fair Quiteria looked a little pale, probably on account of the bad night which brides always spend preparing themselves for their wedding on the following day.

1. What event is occurring within the passage?

a) A funeral
b) A wedding
c) A church service
d) A queen’s coronation
e) A local festival

Answer
b
2. Sancho is captivated by

a) the skill of the horsemen
b) the natural setting
c) the beauty of the words
d) the length of the event
e) the change in the girl’s appearance

Answer
e
3. Rhetorical questions are used in the passage to

a) create comedy
b) emphasise a character’s opinion
c) ask another character’s opinion
d) display arrogance
e) shut down a discussion

Answer
b
4. Don Quixote’s believes Sancho’s words reveal an underlying

a) uneducated rural personality
b) unrequited love
c) jealousy
d) sense of loss
e) ennui towards the scene

Answer
a
5. Both the narrator in The Fall and Sacho in Don Quixote are engaging in

a) diatribes
b) asides
c) soliloquies
d) monologues
e) eulogies

Answer
d

5. Tasks

Task 1: Think of ten examples of rhetorical questions used in everyday life.
Task 2: Write a scene in which either a dialogue or an internal monologue includes a rhetorical question.

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