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Rhetorical Analysis of John Barry’s the Great Influenza

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Science is the study of the world around us. It is a field like no other because those in it have great courage, passion, and self-sufficiency. They are hero-like in their quality. John Barry says delves into the classification of scientist and their research in The Great Influenza, an account of the 1918 flu epidemic. Barry uses juxtaposition, metaphor, and rhetorical questions to characterize the nature scientific research and inquiry. In the first paragraph Barry juxtaposes certainty and uncertainty in both idea and structure. Barry says that certainty is opposite of uncertainty and therefore they have opposite effects. However he elaborates on uncertainty saying that it “’makes one tentative.” This shows that uncertainty is the main focus of the piece. In the second part of the paragraph Barry mimics the first in order to show that uncertainty is necessary in science. The fact that the sentence about uncertainty is short gives strength to what he calls weak. Overall, Barry is saying through his initial juxtaposition that science is uncertain but strong. Starting in the fourth paragraph Barry begins an extended metaphor explaining how scientists are on the frontier.

Barry says that scientists though uncertain must brave the wilderness in order to discover what they seek. They are adventurers that must brave the wilderness in a disciplined way without the necessary tools. Every time they go in search of answers they enter a new world as if stepping “through the looking glass” or into the wardrobe. Barry shows the true nature of science with the rhetorical questions within the metaphor. The questions show how scientists are careful and second guess themselves often in order to be sure they are correct. Barry says that these people, scientists, are the “grunts” that blaze the trail for others to come and pave over and perfect. Juxtaposition, metaphor, and rhetorical questions are all used by John Barry in order to classify scientific research. Barry says that scientific research is a heroic profession that requires many skills and the ability to contradict your own ideas. Uncertainty is abundant in the field but must be overcome in order to discover what is needed. Ultimately, scientists are investigators, inventors, and explorers that in a heroic-like manner brave the uncertainty of the frontier in the quest of knowledge.

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