The Language of Gretchen

Persuasive Features

Emotive Lexis

Gretchen writes a number of articles around the First World War period. From the few I have selected, she seems particularly opinionated for a woman of her time regarding the war and therefore a large number of persuasive features are evident, predominantly emotive language. In the article ‘A Lover of the Trenches’ she details her encounter with a drunken soldier. She writes “but the burden of it was that he loved the trenches” relating to the soldier’s appetite for war. The use of the noun ‘burden’ has negative connotations of something permanent and serious, in the case of this soldier he is burdened with his love of the dangerous trenches which may effectively be the death of him. It could be said that as the soldier was drunk and on his own that there is interesting discussion into the emotional state of the individual as drinking is often an outcome of trauma, something he is undoubtedly familiar with in the trenches. Through Gretchen’s use of emotive language she forces the audience to sympathise with the soldiers, she influences the reader by creating sympathy for the soldiers that are suffering with the tribulations of war.

Moreover she finishes the article with an exclamatory sentence; ‘Our poor heroes!’ whereby using the inclusive pronoun ‘our’ she strengthens the emotive language through creating unity with the audience. Hero is a name given to ‘men of superhuman strength, courage or ability’; we would not expect a hero to be ‘poor’ as in pitiable due to their given courageous temperament, creating pathos. The courageous heroes are suffering for ‘our’ protection which creates almost a sense of guilt although the war was an unavoidable occurrence for the general public. Additionally, ‘poor heroes’ is oxymoronic because heroes are so infrequently been associated with being ‘poor’. In this case she comes across as sincere and empathetic which would not only be indicative to her feelings towards war and those promoting it but her sympathies to the soldiers that participate in the action. It creates a very contrasting perception of a soldier to that of what would have been fed to the general public through propaganda.

Still on the subject of letters home, she says “my heart sinks when I hear a woman begin about the last letter she received from her son billeted in some hitherto part of Britain”; by referring to herself in the first person she shows she has been directly affected by the war which could help the audience relate to her while the use of the idiom ‘my heart sinks’ tentatively shows her discouragement. The audience is mixed but the articles primarily appeal to women who may well be captivated by this, what would seem, modern woman writing not only of her everyday events but of the masculinised War Effort in which women were scarcely involved.

In the example “That is the great problem we must all help to solve”, the use of ‘great’ acts as an intensifier increases the idea that traumas of war have had a significant impact on a collective number of people. Her constant use of inclusive pronouns constructs a feeling of community sharing mutual traumas.


In the article ‘Our Soldiers No Better’, in response to a woman who describes soldiers as ‘paragons of honour’ Gretchen says ‘“In our enthusiastic patriotism, and faith in the righteousness of our cause, we are apt to forget that war encourages the basest passions of men”, which highlights her resentment of the woman’s statement. The superlative ‘basest’ synonymously could be ‘lowest’, which is almost derogatory given that it suggests that men instinctively act in a violent manner similar to that of a predecessor with caveman like characteristics.

In the same article she talks of the ongoing suffering of women and children during the wartime period. She uses multiple superlatives in ‘and the poorest knows as much as the richest of the tragic incidents of the great drama unfolding week by week’. The superlative ‘poorest’ acts as an emotional intensifier and could make the audience sympathise with those of a low social status. Contrastingly she uses ‘richest’ which creates the idea of the highest possible social status but incorporates a sense of accord in that both social classes are experiencing the same ‘tragic incidents’. The use of the antithesis intensifies the persuasive technique.

On the subject of the changing ethics within War Gretchen writes ‘But the greatest change of all is that there is a higher moral conscience which does not accept certain of the evils of war as a necessary element of war itself’. As a modern reader we perhaps don’t understand all the nuances associated with this quote as a reader at the time would have. It seems to suggest that as a population we have matured to a level where war is not as medieval as past wars because the individuals involved in the war effort, like soldiers, are generally less ruthless. This is possibly related to the increasing circulation of the media that generates awareness of Worldly events that we would otherwise not know, allowing us to empathise with the events of other nations and making the emotional response. She makes reference to The Hague conference, the one she is most likely to be referring to here is the one that was initially thought to take place in 1914 and was then postponed to 1915, which never took place due to the commencement of the First World War. This is perhaps why she feels The Hague to be such a failure because it has not brought peace but just war to people of ‘higher moral conscience’ that are more reluctant to participate in the onslaught. ‘Hence the Hague Conference, and the Hague Regulations- that the most tragic diplomatic failure.’

Pragmatic and Direct Language


Throughout the articles Gretchen uses an array of direct, tentative and pragmatic language which presents her opinions primarily of war and in many cases voices the outlooks of women. In the article ‘How’s the war getting on?’ she says ‘One day when I was feeling a bit perplexed as to whether the time, labour, and money expended on making “comforts” for the soldiers was the wisest form of patriotism for women…’. Pragmatically, here she insinuates that her time- and the time of women as a body- could be better spent partaking in other patriotic actions, rather than seeing to the domesticated activities expected of women during wartime, by being more directly involved in aiding the soldiers. In the same article, she goes on to detail a letter she read to a friend in order to inspire her from an officer of Ypres and to highlight the praise received: “As I remarked when at home, the women seem to take more interest in the war than the men. They seem all to be doing their best – not standing round in football fields”.  The reference to ‘football fields’ is a direct reference to the Christmas Day Truce of 1914 where soldiers from both sides lay down arms and a game of football commenced, the quote criticises both the men involved in the truce and the truce itself. The article in which the quote from Officer is was written in approximately 1917, a more advanced stage of the war, as the war progressed both sides became bitterer and a truce would have been prohibited. Many officers such as the one quoted were opposed to the truce in 1914 which would explain the way the Officer seems to belittle the truce by implying it contravened instructions.

Furthermore in the article ‘Imputations of Cowardice’, on the subject of the ways in which men are enticed to go to war, she writes: ‘This winter we shall see half the population in black’, black being the colour that is worn to mourn a death. Pragmatically she suggests that there will be such a great number of deaths that a significant number of the population will be in mourning and not be wearing the ‘white armband’ expected of them to ‘notify their loss’ of someone at war.


Mostly Gretchen pursues a more direct approach in presenting her opinions. In the article ‘Our Soldiers No Better’, she describes a woman who is expressing her disgust at the violent acts committed by the Germans upon defenceless women in Belgium and Northern France as an ‘indignant lady’, the demonstration of negative pre modification by using the adjective ‘indignant’ before the noun directly conveys her opinion of the woman in question.

Further use of negative pre modification to assert her opinions is found in ‘Imputations of Cowardice’: ‘There must, nevertheless, be many hysterical minds responsible for the several tactless methods of inducing young men to offer themselves as recruits’. The negative pre modifiers ‘hysterical’ and ‘tactless’ establish her adverse views of those responsible for the accusation of cowardice in order to encourage men to go to war. She contradicts many of Lakoff’s theories of women, particularly in her direct opinions and use of humour within her journalism; it was perhaps a revelation that women had humour at all.

At the stage in which the articles were written, early feminism was beginning to advance although the word ‘feminism’ meant to be feminine rather than pursuing women’s rights. Because of the war, women were forced to have a more active role in society as most men were fighting though the role was still largely domesticated given their responsibility to source soldiers with material goods and food. Despite this, some of the First World War propaganda remains relatively degrading to women, Gretchen makes reference to a particular piece of propaganda found in The Times 1914, ‘Wanted, petticoats for all able-bodied youths who have not yet joined the army!’, she responds to this by saying ‘The women in a body should have protested against the offensive use of the word “petticoats” as a symbol of cowardice’. The use of the modal verb ‘should’ creates a sense of obligation. This is perhaps some of the earliest writing that began to defend women’s roles in society, to her active female readership who would react to the article, the growing voice of women as individuals potentially spurred the upcoming feminism campaigns.

In the article ‘Women with Sons at the front’ Gretchen details the difficulty in discussing the subject of war at home.  She feels envious of those who have family members who are frequent correspondents from the trenches but at the same time describes it as having ‘its compensations’. Pragmatically here she is suggesting that if the frequent correspondent did not write a letter home for a while then the concern of the family will be higher because they will immediately assume something bad as happened, whereas if the correspondent is less frequent then it will be longer before the concern develops.

On the subject of Florence Nightingale’s unconventional marital status, she writes ‘When, sixty years ago, Florence Nightingale took a company of trained nurses out to the Crimea, there were many contemptuous insults heaped upon her.’ Although Nightingale as a successful woman for her time began to improve women’s roles in society and some may say even triggered it through her strong will and determination to succeed, she generally had little respect for women and therefore could not be counted amongst the great English feminists. Despite this, Gretchen seems to admire her because she went against what was expected of her as a woman of society. The title of the article ‘Out of Date Taunt’ immediately establishes her opinion of the matter, she feels women’s lesser role in society is becoming outdated and for this reason a women should not feel the need to marry. The use of ‘low minded taunts’ account the derisions as unintelligent; by challenging the intellect of the women who are unpleasant towards Nightingale’s unconventional relationship status, Gretchen makes herself appear more knowledgeable and therefore exceed the women who do not perhaps share her attitudes to liberation of women. Commas surround ‘sixty years ago’ creating emphasis, the drawn attention to this is deliberate, it highlights the length time elapsed and demonstrates that Gretchen feels that it is time for change because the statements towards things thought of as unconventional were thought of a long time ago.


The language of Gretchen is unlike the language of many women during the Great War period. She uses her career and journalistic talent to present her confident beliefs and the voice of previously unheard women. It is a clear demonstration of the ways in which the media has the ability to positively influence the general public and reinforce liberation ideas, potentially instigating the approaching feminist campaigns. Furthermore within the articles she exhibits firm aversion to the War and to those responsible for enticing soldiers to fight. She is ahead of her time in relation to her strong and confident attitudes, to many of her female readers she would have been fresh and interesting, a pioneer of the female voice and gender equality.

When I began to explore the language of the articles I did not expect to find such compelling views regarding female roles within her interpretations of the ongoing Great War. Although suffragettes were emerging and beginning to take more extreme measures in order to gain the vote, Gretchen makes no reference to this but of equality within marriages and how she feels an unmarried woman should not be made to feel inadequate. Primarily the articles demonstrate her outlook on the Great War and ways in which women are involved. Domesticated activities such as making material goods to send to the soldiers are referred to highlighting that women’s roles still remain within the household- but even here she is cynical towards the domesticated role as she felt the efforts were futile and that the time could be better spent helping the soldiers in a more active way.

Gretchen uses a sophisticated selection of persuasive features. Her use of emotive language constructs the centre of an increasing generation of pathos. From my analysis I feel that the creation of pathos has the ability to manipulate the audience by offering an outlook they may not have considered previously as it is unconventional for women to share such an approach. To add to the persuasion she uses an array of inclusive pronouns that make the audience feel directly implicated by the events she considers. In regards to modes of persuasion she also develops a refines a sense of logos by presenting opinion as fact in many instances but portraying logical argument to her viewpoints which make it difficult to contradict her.  Through the impressive use of logos it additionally creates ethos through the honesty of her views which appeal to the audience through factors of entertainment. The ethos is intensified through her clear passion for the subject which draws the audience further into the articles.

While examining on her direct and tentative approaches to language, I found she primarily took a direct approach to expressing her beliefs. By asserting herself more directly, she appears more confident in her view which is critical for a woman of that time if they were to be heard. The tentative language is minimal as it would have little effect; the use of direct language has the ability to shock.

The texts are multi-purpose with a primary purpose to entertain as the articles are found in a magazine so an entertainment factor is used to entice the female target audience.  Additionally there is a persuasive purpose which is intensified by the entertaining purpose by creating a strong bond with the audience through entertaining features.

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