Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Rhetorical Analysis is a Bit of a Cluster

In researching It's a Wonderful Life in mid-1990s, I found a Master's Thesis by James T. Coon, titled "Frank Capra and It's a Wonderful Life: A Burkean Cluster Analysis of a Rhetorically Self-Expressive Film." Dated May, 1989, it was part of his graduate requirements at Bowling Green State University, which just so happens to be in my back yard.

But what, you ask, is a Burkean Cluster Analysis? For the simplest description, I will begrudgingly refer to Wikipedia:

Kenneth Burke (May 5, 1897 – November 19, 1993) was a literary theorist best known for his analyses based on the nature of knowledge. He was one of the first individuals to stray away from traditional rhetoric and view literature as "symbolic action."

Burke was unorthodox, concerning himself not only with literary texts, but with the elements of the text that interacted with the audience: social, historical, political background, author biography, etc.
For a deeper exploration of Burkean Cluster Analysis methodology and theory, click here.

I'll start with the issues first. In this thesis, Coon:
  • Repeatedly refers to Violet Bick as Violet Bicks.
  • Incorrectly states that the man who pushes Potter around in the wheelchair also drives his coach.
  • Makes numerous errors in quotes taken directly from the film. Copying a quote from a script, or transcribing the words directly from the film should not produce this many errors.
Having said that, this thesis is not by any means bad. I'm not sure it's worthy of a master's degree, though.

Coon draws some very interesting comparisons and contrasts, looking at the symbolism of locations and moons and other themes that recur throughout the film. It's definitely worth a read for any Life scholar.