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Rhetorical Analysis of “Cultural Baggage”

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In Barbara Ehrenreich’s Cultural baggage, the topic of ethnic heritage is discussed as the author is responding to an acquaintance asking her what her ethnic background is. Ehrenreich finds her purpose for writing her essay in making readers aware that no ethnic background is in fact a background. She takes on a not so common viewpoint of herself as most people pride themselves in where they came from and the traditions of their culture, rather than feeling almost embarrassed to claim their background.

Ehrenreich claims that she has no ethnic background, disregarding her Scottish, English, and Irish heritage. While others “stand up and proudly reclaim their roots”, Ehrenreich questions if she is “revealing a hidden ethnic chauvinism in which the Britanically derived serve as a kind of neutral standard compared with the ethnic “others”’. She realizes that it is almost “un-American” to not be linked in title to an ancestor of a particular ethnicity, yet she hardly has any sense of pride in her personal background or even a connection to any other background due to being raised with a of lack cultural traditions and beliefs.

There was a short period of time where Ehrenreich “briefly nourished a craving for traditions and roots”, as most people do at some point, by learning about where her family descended from and the practices that her ancestors took part in. She even hoped that with her marriage to an Eastern European Jewish man, she would gain the “ethnic genes” that she felt she lacked. She attempted to instill a greater sense of ethnic pride in her children than what she had growing up, but their sense of connection with their own ethnicity “eluded” them as well. Ehrenreich portrays a high sense of disconnect from her roots, so much so that the reader feels sympathetic that she is not being able to achieve the cultural pride that many do.

After attempting to instill some cultural background into her children, Ehrenreich finally came to the realization that she did in fact have a “genuine heritage.” While at first she thought her children were making accusations towards her for not believing in God, it in turn became a reminder that she came from a family that had been “dullusioned with Christianity generations ago.” Her family was one that did not carry on traditions or believe in God, and rather, chose new over old practices instead of following the practices of people before them. Ehrenreich was finally able to feel a sense of pride knowing that “the race of ‘none’ marches on.”

The author wrote her essay including several references to certain traditions that different cultures practice. The audience is assumed to have some general knowledge of different cultures, but nothing to extensive. The author also assumes that the audience is somewhat well educated due to the higher-level word choices she makes. Ehrenreich is describing her realization of heritage to her audience in the possible hopes that the readers can either relate in some way or share some of the excitement that she does in her own ethnicity, or lack of.

Ehrenreich was able to make her point that she does in fact have an ethnicity other than Scottish, English and Irish. It was intriguing to see the progression in the essay from the authors feeling of disconnect with her heritage to a sense of pride in her family that refrains from carrying on cultural activities. She recognizes where she came from and concludes that no tradition is a tradition, rather than trying to force the culture into her life when she has no emotional ties with it.

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