Pathos, being a very old term, can refer to different aspects of life. Its first definition and use were tightly connected with rhetoric, where pathos implied a way of persuasion that appealed to the audience’s emotions. In literary pieces, pathos plays the similar role. It is a literary tool, which authors use to get an emotional response from the reader and evoke the feelings of sympathy or pity towards the character. Of course, pathos doesn’t imply a certain limitation to only these two emotions, but it is most commonly used to make the reader sympathize with the characters.
The term in English was first mentioned around 1570-1580. It originates from the word “páthos”, which belongs to the Greek language and translates as “suffering”. There are many derivatives in the English language that can be connected with pathos, for example, empathy (the ability to feel and experience the emotions of someone else), pathetic (which evokes pity), etc.
Today, the term pathos can have a very broad meaning. It is oftentimes used to describe an object, an event, or a concept, which is able to touch people’s feelings and awaken their emotions. For instance, feeling proud of your country’s Olympics achievements or sympathizing with a friend who has lost a family member can be described as pathos. Although not technically correct, this way to use the term is implemented widely in today’s society.
Bathos, being a similar sounding term, relates to pathos and can be confused with it. In literature and rhetoric, bathos means an excessive, insincere pathos; too much sentimentality; or a too obvious mawkishness.
There are many reasons why pathos is so prevalent in literature. While it is the most common for dramatic literary pieces, it can also be found in poetry and different prose pieces. The main goal of pathos as a linguistic tool is to establish an emotional link between the reader and the character. By evoking empathy or sympathy in the readers, the author helps them comprehend the world around them better as well as experience some new revelations, and even creates a somewhat cathartic emotional experience. Another reason why authors use pathos is to build an emotional bond between the reader and the literary work in general, thus ensuring a more long-lasting effect and the imprint the literary piece leaves on the readers.
In rhetorical works, pathos serves as a tool of persuasion. It allows the persuader (the orator) to affect the listeners on an emotional level, thus creating a bigger impact. With pathos, many orators try to arise changes in the audience’s behavior. Oftentimes, using pathos implies referring to something the listeners already believe in, relating to the certain anchors that can tie the audience’s feelings and beliefs to the orator’s speech and goals. For instance, appealing to certain set values is a common element of pathos in rhetoric.
Another reason to implement pathos (both in rhetoric and literature, but more common for the orators) is to reduce the reader's’ ability to be judgmental. By making the audience sympathetic, the author or the orator has more chances to make a point without facing a strong judgment or even a rejection. Pathos makes it easier for the author to deliver a message.
Pathos is prevalent is speeches, both old and modern, which proves its effectiveness again when it comes to persuasion. For example, in 2004, Barack Obama in his keynote address tried to appeal to all the segments of society. He included immigrants, people of color, military men, and much more into his speech and appealed to their emotions, making a bigger impact on more people.
Edgar Allen Poe masterfully implements pathos in one of his poems called “Annabel Lee”. He not only illustrates a sad story of the young man and makes the reader sympathize with the character. In addition, the author manages to evoke such feelings as joy, loss, grief, love, etc. without limiting himself to only sympathy or pity.
Shakespeare did a great job using pathos indirectly. This means that he didn’t actually try to use pathos on the reader but made one of his characters (Iago) use pathos throughout the story to persuade other characters and to manipulate them. This is a very interesting method of pathos usage and a bright example of how this linguistic and rhetorical tool works.
People also use pathos in everyday speech as a method of persuasion (and sometimes even manipulation). For instance, it is common to appeal to someone else’s feelings when we need them to do something that we want, like parents asking their kids to behave well in order not to disappoint or upset their parents.
Pathos can be implemented in many fields of life, including literature, rhetoric, and everyday experiences. As a linguistic tool, it is used to awaken the reader's’ emotions, to reduce their judgment, to make a strong emotional impact on them, and to establish a bond between the reader and the characters.
The term originates from the Greek language and can be translated as “suffering” or “emotional involvement”, which perfectly represents the role of pathos in literary works and rhetoric. It can also be used to describe certain everyday objects or phenomena that are able to make an emotional impact or stir people’s feelings.