5 Examples of Diatribe in Literature

Definition of Diatribe

A diatribe is a speech or written statement marked by intense emotion and criticism. Unlike more balanced forms of discourse, a diatribe forcefully expresses disapproval in an aggressive, one-sided manner driven more by passion than logic. As a speech or written statement, a diatribe often constitutes a bitter and forceful denunciation of a person and thing. It tends to aggressively attack its target in a one-sided fashion, driven more by the diatribes’ anger or disdain than by an appeal to logic or persuasion. A diatribe usually involves passionate and unrestrained language that conveys the disapproval, discontent and resentment of the speaker or writer.

Examples of diatribe in literature

“Animal Farm” by George Orwell

In the novel’s climactic scene, the character Napoleon unleashes a scathing diatribe that exposes the corruption pervading the animal society. This impassioned speech reveals how the once-noble revolutionary values have become twisted and subverted. As the animals face yet another invasion by hostile human forces in the final chapter “The Last Battle,” Napoleon insists they must battle to reclaim their freedom. Rallying the animals to war, he declares:

“Comrades, our enemy is outthere, in those farms and fields beyond the river. We have been betrayed! Men have come back to claim us. We cannot enjoy one moment’s lasting peace or content in the fruit of our own labour. You remember who are enemies, comrades! Remember them well, for they are enemies! Enemies! Enemies!… And remember also, comrades, that until animal farmer is overthrown, no animal shall wear a collar or taste a bone!”

The speech exposes the corruption that has taken over the society. The words ‘enemies, enemies, enemies’ demonstrate the intensity and passion, while the unrestrained language shows his anger and frustration. The animals once cherished values like equality, freedom and collaboration have been lost, which have been replaced by a single leader seeking power. The forceful nature of the diatribe of Napoleon is in stark contrast to the idealistic words spoken by Snowball in the beginning of the novel.

“Lord of the Flies” by William Golding

The character Jack makes a diatribe and criticizes Ralph and his followers. The speech reflects the growing disillusionment of Jack with Ralph’s leadership and his rising desire for power. In Chapter V, Jack declares that he is starting his own ‘tribe’ and refuses to credit Ralph’s authority. He says:

“It’s a bestial feeling. It seems as though they must always have been here—specializing in foulness. Look at them: no neatness, no tidiness. No connecting tissue; they’ll all die, each in his turn, without making a mark on the island or on each other… You and your ridiculous mob—eating berries and playing games. You’re not much better than the rest of them! I’m going to organize my own tribe. Why not? They’ve got the lot… We’ll make shelters too… I shall speak to them… We’ll go hunting straight away.”

In this passage, Jack’s diatribe is intense, emotional and critical of Ralph and his followers. Jack uses emotional language like ‘specializing in foulness’ and ‘bestial feeling’ to criticize that the followers of Ralph are lacking social norms and habits. The tone of Jack is forceful, emotional and passionate. The argument of Jack is unbalanced. It is driven by his desire for power than by his concern for the group’s welfare.

Examples of diatribe in literature
Examples of diatribe in literature

“Death of a Salesman” by Arthur Miller

The character Willy Loman delivers a diatribe that reveals his deep-seated anxieties and insecurities. In the climax of the play, his psychological tensions come to a head and he delivers a passionate diatribe that shows his inner turmoil:

“They’ve produced me! Brought me forth into the world… Gave me this wonderful head. This marvelous mind. And I – And I’ve never been able to amount to anything. To make something of myself… Isn’t it a terrible thing, Charlie, to look back and see that men and boys have been grabbed out of life, and tossed into the mud? The mud! Mud! Mud!….

The diatribe of the Willy is powerful and emotional, which is revealing of his inner turmoil. He uses repetition and variation to drive the intensity of his arguments. His tone is passionate, intense and despairing, which is revealing his deep-seated anxieties and insecurities. The diatribe discloses deep resentment of Willy, his frustration and despair towards his apparent failure in life. His diatribe reveals his struggle against his darker consciousness.

“The Red Headed League” by Arthur Conan Doyle

In this short story, the character of Jabez Wilson delivers a diatribe in a emotional and accusatory manner. In the story, Sherlock Holmes solves the mystery of a league of people with red heads and beards. When Holmes visits Wilson in his office, Wilson is deeply anxious and frustrated. His diatribe conveys his anger and resentment towards the league that has ruined his life:

“‘It is a thousand acres of rich coal measures, Mr. Holmes. Out of the whole length of English coal measures, from Durham to Somerset, scarcely a mile exists which is not worked. Why should that mile fall to my lot?’… ‘I have been injured, Mr. Holmes. It’s no use denying it. Have I ever injured anyone?’… ‘You have drawn six months’ wages during the whole six months that you were a member of the League, and yet, as I understand the business, you have worked none the less hard during that period than at any other time in your life.”

Jabez diatribe is highly emotional and accusatory. The use of words like ‘injured’, ‘outrage’ and ‘swindled’ illustrates his ingrained frustration and anger towards the league. The diatribe of Wilson is charged with revenge and betrayal, which reveals his intense engagement with the league’s misadventures. His dialogue reveals his sense of hopelessness and despair and his diatribe is a reflection of his lost faith in the promise of society’s norms and institutions.

“A Good Man Is Hard to Find” by Flannery O’Connor

The character Grandma delivers a diatribe that reveals her narrow-minded and bigoted views. As the story progresses, it becomes clear that Grandma’s beliefs are hindering her from seeing the truth. In the climactic scene, as they are held hostage by a group of robbers, Grandma delivers a passionate diatribe that highlights her prejudices and intolerances:

“‘We should die anyhow,’ she said, ‘Sooner or late, we all have to meet our Maker. With the Lord’s blessing, we’ll meet him pretty soon now.'”

The diatribe of Grandma is highly emotional but her religiosity masks her deep-rooted bigotry. Her narrow-mindedness is evident in her statement which implies that meeting their maker is a good thing and it is better to die sooner rather than later. The intolerance of Grandma towards others is deeply felt and her diatribe exposes her prejudices towards the robbers who she sees as lesser beings than her. Her diatribe is a vivid reflection of her intolerant perception of the world and a reflection of the story’s central theme. It represents the darkness of the human soul.

Function of Diatribe

The primary function of diatribe is to vehemently express criticism or disapproval. It often targets a person, idea and institution. As a persuasive tool, the diatribe draws attention to perceived injustices or wrongdoings in an unrestrained, passionate manner meant to provoke reactions, especially from those holding similar viewpoints. By emphasizing important issues with urgency, diatribes in literature and rhetoric can significantly influence attitudes and perceptions surrounding those issues. Though marked by strong emotions rather than reason, diatribes can serve not just as cathartic expressions of anger or frustration, but as vocal, provocative forms of protest aimed at righting societal ills.

Related Terms

Polemic

Like a diatribe, a polemic launches a verbal attack to dispute or denounce an idea. However, polemics tend to be more structured arguments aimed at persuading through reason rather than raw emotion. While a diatribe hurls invective from the heart, a polemic engages in ideological combat.

Harangue

This term also describes a forceful, passionate speech similar to a diatribe. However, a harangue is often longer and more focused on persuading or rallying others behind a cause. Where a diatribe voices grievances, a harangue sounds a call to action. Both utilize intensity to accentuate their message, but a harangue mobilizes where a diatribe vents.

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