This thesis seeks to understand how we read and understand the use of depictions of violence by examining its rhetorical presentation. Although the media gives us a mixed understanding of the way that experiencing violence secondarily (that is, through all types of media) affects us, scholarship in this area has proved clear connections between viewing/experiencing depictions of violence and raised levels of aggression. On the other hand, there is a clear difference between gratuitous depictions of violence and socially useful depictions of violence (i.e., the difference between a slasher movie and a holocaust movie) that that area of scholarship does not expressly take into account. I argue that the language of trauma studies has the ability to evaluate the impact of violent texts on audiences and that Kenneth Burke's Dramatistic Pentad has the ability the examine depictions of violence to uncover explicit and hidden ideologies that affect the presentation of the violence and, thus, our reception and interpretation of that violence. Working in conjunction, these two theories can help audience's understand depictions of violence on an ideological level and help them to assess the violence's potential traumatic impact on themselves and others within certain contexts. To demonstrate this theory of understanding violence, I make two short analyses of Native Son and The Lovely Bones and demonstrate an in-depth analysis of Fight Club and Blood Meridian in order to give an example of the type of reading I am advocating and its potential for understanding and interpreting depictions of violence in ways that uncover both social benefit and harm. In the end, I hope that this theory of reading violence might extend beyond the sample readings I have done and into other types of media, so that we can all understand the ways that violence is used rhetorically for social and political purposes and be able to both use it and interpret it responsibly.



College and Department

Humanities; English



Date Submitted


Document Type





Kenneth Burke, Wayne Booth, Rhetoric, Violence, Rhetorical analysis, Rene Girard, Freud, Cathy Caruth, Dominick LaCapra, Dominick La Capra, Susan Brison, Cormac McCarthy, Chuck Palahniuk, Richard Wright, Alice Sebold, Flannery O'Connor, Brian Evenson, Blood Meridian, Fight Club, Native Son, The Lovely Bones, Altmann's Tongue, interpretation