Persona


When writing for an audience, our representation of ourselves, or persona, must come out of how we understand two basic factors: 1) our purpose and 2) our audience.

Self-representation is closely related to what Aristotle calls ethos, or the character of the speaker as s/he represents it. It is not the same as the speaker's preceding reputation. What people happen to think of the speaker before s/he starts to speak may, in fact, be what the speaker is trying to fight when s/he speaks, as when s/he invites the audience to reconsider their previously held opinion about him or her.

Here is a little more of Aristotle on ethos: "We believe good men more fully and more readily than others: this is true generally whatever the question is, and absolutely true where exact certainty is impossible and opinions are divided. This kind of persuasion, like the others, should be achieved by what the speaker says, not by what people think of this character before he begins to speak. It is not true, as some writers assume in their treatises on rhetoric, that the personal goodness revealed by the speaker contributes nothing to his power of persuasion; on the contrary, his character may almost be called the most effective means of persuasion he possesses" (I.ii).

Ethos, as Aristotle speaks of it, is somewhat specific about just how good-willed and morally upright the speaker presents himself. For example, a speaker might say, "Fellow Americans, I am, like you, a patriotic citizen and wish the very best for this country." As we are considering persona, that is not necessarily the case: that the speaker is (or simply wishes to be) closely identified with his or her audience in terms of morality and values is often communicated on a more implicit level. Both, however, involve a conscious, pre-meditated crafting of how the speaker wishes to appear.

The following presentations go into some detail about just what crafting a persona involves.