Last week we had the opportunity to read John Muir’s Sierra Club Bulletin regarding the potential damming of the Hetch Hetchy Valley and discuss it with our sister Furman class. Prior to our video-conference, we examined the various persuasive techniques that Muir employs throughout the article, namely his rich, emotional imagery and his use of logic. The article spends a majority of it’s length putting the beauty of the Hetch Hetchy Valley, with “its crystal river and sublime rocks and waterfalls” (1) into words. At times his words are emotional, bordering on religious, to evoke in us an awe of the Valley’s majesty. Yet, laced throughout his majestic diction are rather scientific observations, like the elevation or the types of trees. Thus, the image conjured in the mind of the reader is both moving and realistic. But the strength of Muir’s article does not stop here. Muir notes, “The proponents of the dam scheme bring forward a lot of bad arguments,” (4) and he proceeds to knock those arguments down. He challenges their statements regarding the purity of the water, the beauty of the future lake, and the nature of the landscape.
While the article in its entirety was very persuasive, these two methods each had strengths and weaknesses that our class was able to point out. But, as the Furman class reminded us with their discussion of the demographic pressure of that era in the west, the intended audience was subject to a very different world-view than we have today. Which of Muir’s persuasive techniques do you think were most appropriate for his twentieth century audience? Which of the techniques was most effective for you? Is there a discrepancy between the two, and if so, why do you think that is?