A Critical Analysis of Chitra Divakaruni’s Live Free and Starve.
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In her article, “Live Free and Starve,” Chitra Divakaruni uses multiple persuasive appeals, alongside a pattern of evaluation, to drive home her opinion of child labor in Third World countries. Directed at Americans who recently passed a bill banning import of goods made by children, she explains how boycotting these companies may negatively affect the lives and livelihood of children and their families in these nations. Throughout this article, Chitra is able to stay in-touch with her audience by maintaining a back-and-forth balance between support and criticism for the bill with great success.
Divakaruni opens her argument by seeming to agree with her “liberal friends,” stating that the bill was a “triumphant advance in the field of human rights.” She implies disdain for child labor by stating that now children, “wouldn’t have to spend their days chained to their posts… while their childhoods slipped past them.” A vivid use of patriotic phrases in her introduction encourages the reader to become connected to her stance, creating common grounds with her American audience regarding liberty, freedom, and human rights. These amiable overtones in the first paragraph, however, are usurped by the sarcastic tone of her last sentence, when she says these freed children could be “free and happy, like American children,” which foreshadows her later contrast of children in America versus children in Third World nations.
The next paragraph includes a more formal transition toward her perspective. In an abrupt sentence, Divakaruni’s stance changes from patriotic support of liberty and freedom for children, to doubting whether the impact of the bill will be positive or negative for these hard-working children. The single sentence, “I am not so sure,” is set alone in its own paragraph, effectively highlighting her thesis statement and making her new, more accurate, stance clear and separate from her first set of views. The target audience, those in support of the bill, were taken from agreement into contrasting views via this swift phrase.
Immediately following this outstanding statement is a simple concession, focusing on extreme cases of child labor. She carefully crafts her argument by staying mostly in agreement with her audience, stating that child labor is, “a terrible thing.” She agrees that suffering, cruelty, and lifelong abuse begins in, and is sustained by, these factories. She utilizes eloquent imagery to create a mental picture of these unfortunate children in the mind of the audience; five or six year-olds that spend their days in “dark, ill-ventilated rooms doing work that damages their eyes and lungs.” She makes her audience feel sympathy for the children, at first, slowly building a contrasting set of ideas from her doubtful moment just a paragraph before.
The tension from the previous paragraphs is released in the next, as Divakaruni reveals the meat of her argument. She says the bill will “lead to the unemployment of almost a million children,” and those children would probably prefer working under these conditions rather than “without the benefit of food or clothing or shelter.” In this paragraph, she finally begins to formulate a rebuttal against the bill, using a rational approach of unemployed children and their need to work. Again threaded into her argument is a strain of sarcasm– she begins with a rhetorical question, and ends by saying the children may “enjoy the leisure” of lacking basic necessities– a sarcastic phrase targeted toward her more affluent American readers.
Next, Chitra goes back to yet another concession, discussing the context of American society, and putting child labor into another perspective. “It is easy for us to make [this] error” because, Divakaruni says, Americans and even immigrants may have “wiped from [their] minds the memory” of desperate conditions. She uses this forgiving statement to put her readers at ease again. However, she ends the paragraph by proceeding with her argument that it is still true that these children “prefer bread to freedom.” She again uses imagery to create another emotional pull, this time in the opposite direction from before, by telling Americans that these conditions they had forgotten would “force a parent to sell his or her child,” which is “inconceivable” in their own society.
Toward the end of her article, she discloses a personal appeal by giving us a brief glimpse into her own experiences with child labor: a child named Nimai that her mother hired. Some could say that this story would make her biased and culturally predisposed to accept this form of slavery. However, she has avoided this issue by intermixing frequent concessions throughout every argument, keeping her American audience in mind. The results of her balancing act have allowed her to slip in this story toward the end. This brief story gives the reader a name and a face for one of these children– a well-treated child who “ate the same food that we children did and was given new clothes,” and was encouraged to “learn to read and write.”
In her second-to-last paragraph, she flips the story and asks what if “an anti-child-labor law had prohibited my mother from hiring him?” She has already laid the groundwork, and all she has left is to bring her point home. The alternative to child labor is “ribs sticking out through the rags they wore… When the hunger was too much to bear, they stole into the neighbors’ fields and ate whatever they could find… Even though they knew they’d be beaten for it.” Nimai was proud to not be among these children, thanks to his job. Staying consistent with her balancing act, she says, “Exploitation, you might be thinking. But he thought he was a responsible member of his family.”
Her conclusion summarizes her argument, adding a few additional bits of supporting evidence. She states that banning import of goods made by children is “no use unless it goes hand in hand with programs that will offer a new life to these newly released children.” She then goes on to name several options for these types of programs that are sorely needed in these countries, such as schools. Finally, she ends with a powerful thought: “are we willing to shoulder that responsibility?” This point, the climax of her argument, is the home run she has been building up to, and her argument is complete.
In a nutshell, “Live Free and Starve” is an excellently written argument against a bill that could lead to devastating the lives of millions of children. Throughout her article, Divakaruni makes an excellent argument by tossing her stance back and forth from the pros to cons of the bill. She exercises caution by agreeing with her target audience and allowing them to hold their sympathetic emotions, while also using gentle sarcasm and logical appeals to express the other side of the story. Chitra includes a personal story, putting a face and name to a child who benefitted from work, and is able to use the story to show that, perhaps, allowing child labor is the only way to give these children better lives. She ends with a strong, powerful thought that the reader can take away from her article and that will stick in the reader’s mind: that they could leave these children worse than when they had jobs. Overall, Chitra Divakaruni has crafted a convincing argument that is difficult to oppose, and has probably affected the minds of many Americans with her writing.