Revelations about Revolutions: Persuading Perceptions Through Music

Molly Cartwright


Revelations about Revolutions: Persuading Perceptions Through Music

      Entertainers often use their forms of entertainment as a platform to bring awareness to social justice issues. This is seen throughout Hollywood: Dave Chappelle’s “Equanimity” and “The Bird Revelation” and celebrity speeches inspired by the #MeToo movement at the Golden Globe Awards. J. Cole is a rapper also popularly known for spreading awareness about social justice issues through his music. In his single “High for Hours,” released on Martin Luther King Junior Day in 2017, J. Cole addresses black oppression and a multitude of connecting issues. The main function of his song is to propose that the solution to equality does not come from the oppressed overthrowing the oppressors.  Instead, the cycle of abuse must end, and the decision to revolutionize must be an individual one, must be a revelation, must happen on the inside. He recognizes that his message is perceived as controversial by different audiences and writes his song in a way that appeals emotionally, ethically, and logically to his audience. Pathos is established through a deceptive song title that, when juxtaposed with the content of the rest of the song, evokes shock; intentional word choices that elicit empathy; an overload of evidence, an emotional instrumental, and chorus that conjures hopelessness.  He establishes ethos by demonstrating his extensive knowledge of current racially charged issues, his experience with oppression, and his sincere attempts to solve that very oppression. Finally, J. Cole establishes logos by providing evidence against a possible counter argument, and by using history and clear examples to support his final message: “the only real revolution happens right inside of you.”

      In the very beginning, Cole gives the audiences a feeling of shock through a deceptively cool title and introduction that contrasts the serious content of the rest of song. The title of this song functions as a way to draw in listeners that may not otherwise seek out songs about oppression and also to evoke a feeling of shock. With a title referencing drugs in a nonchalant manner, one does not expect to be led through a series of reflections on suppression and abuse of power. The druggy, joking introduction also sharply contrasts the first verse’s list of American hypocrisies, and this surprising divergence elicits a powerful sense of shock from the audience. This astonished reaction functions to capture the listeners full attention and emotional investment in the song’s words by sparking their interest with the unexpected and forcing them to listen carefully in order to understand.

Cole’s specific word choice also evokes an empathetic response that deeper captures the understanding and emotional commitment of the audience. When discussing police brutality, he raps “now somebody’s son is layin’ breathless.” This reference humanizes the victim of such a brutal crime and captivates as much as it revolts. This line requests an empathetic response from both a black and white audience by noting a universally devastating and painful event; the idea of losing a child is horrendous to people of any background. This emotionally charged language works as an equalizer, bringing equal footing to an issue that often seems racially biased. Regardless of skin color or personal experience with police brutality, the loss of a child is universally understood. This increased ability to understand and share the feelings of the oppressed works to gain the listener’s emotional investment in the song.

Cole elicits a feeling of hopelessness through an overload of information in the first verse, and an emotionally charged chorus and instrumental to put the listener in a vulnerable state, creating the perfect window to easily pass on his advice. The first verse overflows with examples of hypocrisy related to black oppression: American settlers’ pursuit of freedom at the same time slavery was widely practiced, justification of murder by the Christian church and ISIS, police brutality by those who follow doctrines of “thou shall not kill,” and impoverished black communities lacking much-needed government funding. He chooses his words carefully, and this practice allows him to avoid unnecessary transition words and to go directly into the next rail against hypocrisy or example of black oppression. Cole’s intense rap provides the opportunity for a plethora of issues to be discussed in each line and leaves the listener feeling overwhelmed and hopeless at the endless injustices in need of solving. Both the lyrics and instrumental aspects of the chorus generate a feeling of desperation and sadness. Cole repeats his line “the type of shit that make you wanna let go” to emphasize that these issues and the lack of change make those affected want to give up. These words follow every verse to continuously remind the listener about the prevailing hopelessness surrounding the issues addressed. In addition to the depressing lyrics, the downward piano scale and groovy background give the listener a chance to breathe and contemplate the tragic aura that surrounds this song, a feeling that few rap songs attempt to reckon with. This continued sense of hopelessness leaves the audience feeling lost and without their own answers to these issues, awaiting the inevitable solution that J. Cole will provide in anxious anticipation.

Before attempting to pass on his controversial message about revolution, J. Cole establishes his credibility on this topic in order to show the listener that he is not blaming the black community, and that he is asking for this inner revolution to occur in people of all kinds.  His ability to gain the listener’s trust in his character is critical because without the ethical appeal, his message may be perceived as dubious and distorted.  His suggestion to fix one’s self to create the biggest change in world instead of revolting can be viewed by the black community as another form of black oppression because white people often hold black individuals responsible for unfortunate situations. This American ideal of “pulling oneself up by the bootstraps” is used as a way to silence their pleas for change and to maintain the forms of systematic racism that continue to disadvantage black people.

Cole establishes ethos by expounding upon his awareness of oppression, his personal experience with oppression, and his sincere endeavors to combat oppression.  He gains authority in the first verse by demonstrating to the black community that he is well aware of the issues facing black people and that he even faces these forms of oppression. He describes his personal experience in Dallas as being “lost in the Wonderland where niggas still suffering” to indicate how closely he personally identifies with the issues discussed throughout the song. By including his own experience with oppression, he indicates to the listener, specifically a black listener, that his end message is not an attack on black people.  In verse two, J. Cole says “I had a convo with the president, I paid to go and see him” to build his reputation by indicating that he had a discussion and established a relationship with a well-respected and qualified political leader like President Obama. It also shows that J. Cole is sincere in his attempt to end oppression because he personally paid money and spent time to go discuss issues about black oppression. He proves his knowledge on issues of oppression, discusses his experience with oppression, and demonstrates his sincere actions to solve oppression in order to build trust with the audience so he can pass on his message without perceptions of blaming or ignorance.

The last mode of persuasion is this song is effective inclusion of logos, a difficult feat in the rap world. Anticipation of counterarguments and almost universal examples take the listener through a logical procession of information and evidence. A counterargument to J. Cole’s theory of revolution could be to address the system itself and attempt to change the external rather than the internal. Cole takes time to refute this argument before he even exchanges his own message with the audience. In the second verse, he discusses how even our first African American president who wished to free black people from oppression and suffering wasn’t able to do so under our current political system. By showing that a man with “all the power in the clout” can’t effectively bring change to the system, J. Cole elucidates to the listener that attempting to change the system, or the external, is a fruitless action that even one of the most powerful people in the world could not enact. This example of government inaction also contributes to the overall sense of hopelessness in “High for Hours,” and once again Cole references a problem that is not specific for any racial group. It seems that no matter what station one holds, there is no effective way to revolutionize the systems we all exist under without first changing the ideals that rest inside each individual; this is not an effort to be completed without extensive transformation.

Cole openly acknowledges that he used to believe that a collective revolution was the answer until he meditated on the history of revolution which provided his current message with logical evidence. He suggests that the audience “take a deeper look at history” to realize that the “abused becomes the abuser,” and that the cycle of abuse effectively never ends. The listener must then reconcile her own knowledge of history with the unforgiving lens through which Cole is looking at oppression.  A version of Cole’s observation on a massive scale is seen through the history of the French Revolution. The French people overthrew the monarchy in a violent manor that resulted in them becoming just as corrupt as their previous oppressors. Cole then slips easily into a riff on domestic abuse, pointing out that “the children in abusive households grow up knockin’ girlfriends out cold–that’s called a cycle.” He takes this large-scale, philosophical understanding of the endless cycle of corruption inherent in revolution and familiarizes it for the reader by referencing the tangible, the everyday, the known. This makes a theory that may otherwise be hard to comprehend more relatable and understandable for the audience.

Throughout “High for Hours”, J. Cole’s modes of persuasion function to inspire inward change among individuals in order to work towards the end of oppression. He uses his platform as an entertainer to address the problems he observes in the world and takes this even a step further by addressing the nature of revolution and the complexities of human behavior. His revelation about revolution offers a solution to the corrupt cycle of oppression, and there is no mumble in his message. He wants you, me, and everyone to come to terms with the nasty parts of our world and the general unwillingness to cleanse them. There is action to be taken, and it may not be what one expects—instead of pitting the oppressed against the oppressor, he is calling upon all of humanity to undergo an inward and individual revolution that will end the cycle of oppression forever.



Cole, J.”High for Hours.” Dreamville Inc. 2017, track 1.Genius,





Molly Cartwright


The dichotomy of portraying women as either angel or monster is present in many works of literature, including Snow White and Jane Eyre. This categorization of the female existence is a patriarchal means to exploit and silence women. In Jean Rhys’s The Wide Sargasso Sea, the supposedly monstrous woman comes in the form of the “mad woman” from Jane Eyre. Although Rhys’s novel portrays a woman as mentally unstable, it diverges from “Snow White” and Jane Eyre because it offers the “monster’s” side of the story and justifies her condition.

In the story of “Snow White”, women are portrayed as either pure or heinous to encourage patriarchal standards of women; the woman portrayed as monstrous even carried the word “evil” in her name. The Evil Queen is a devious woman who plots to kill Snow White out of jealousy for her beauty; she is assertive, and the primary instigator of action in the story. Matching up these traits with an evil woman encourages a patriarchal agenda. The untouched woman in this story is the passive, beautiful, complacent Snow White who lays dead in a coffin as an object of desire for the prince during the main plot to this story. This objectification of Snow White at once dehumanizes her body and glorifies it, thus encouraging women and girls who read this story to imitate this deadening of a vibrant life. The women who attune themselves to patriarchal standards are raised up as pure while those who do not conform to expectation set forth by a male-dominated culture are portrayed as evil.

In Jane Eyre, this angel and monster juxtaposition presents itself in the form of Jane and Bertha. Bertha is the “mad women in the attic”. She is fiery, passionate, and violent, and she is secretly Rochester’s wife. In contrast, Jane is calm, cool, and collected in regards to nearly everything. She is the replacement for a “failed” wife, a new and improved version who does not have outbursts or fits of madness. Jane was indeed progressive in her approaches to love and marriage, but her overall more feminine and favorable nature was what led Rochester to love her over his own wife. While Rochester did have a logical grievance about being tricked into marriage with Bertha, her madness is used as a silencing tool in this novel, rather than an attempt to bring visibility to women struggling with mental health. Bertha has no voice throughout the novel, and she is only allowed to communicate by making animal-like grunts. It is dehumanizing to obliterate this character’s voice, and oppressive to label her mad as the result. She is refused a chance to explain her “madness,” nor are any attempts to understand her made.

The Wide Sargasso Sea responds to the erased voice of the mad women in Jane Eyre by explaining the life of Bertha, whose given name was Antoinette. This novel shows how women are exploited through labels of madness while also sharing the voices of these women as a way to understand their madness. Jean Rhys describes Antoinette’s childhood that involved her brother’s death, the loss of her mother’s sanity, and the towns hatred towards her. These traumatic childhood events move her towards the symptoms of madness. The novel then hints that Rochester, her husband, seems to push her over the edge into full insanity. He becomes very distant to her after receiving hateful letters about her and doesn’t believe her explanations about the rumors he hears. He then sleeps with their servant right next to her while she could hear. He attempts to change her identity to be more English by calling her Bertha. Rochester even makes her despise the one thing she has ever truly loved: the island. He also traps her in his attic with the intention to make her miserable rather than divorcing. This novel shows the steps leading to Antoinette’s madness and even shows Rochester’s own madness. Rochester helped lead her into madness and exploited her for her money. Antoinette’s mother is another example of a women driven to madness and exploited with that label by men. Her mother warned her husband that they had to leave the island for their safety but he wouldn’t listen. This resulted in her parrot and son’s death. She became intensely heartbroken and lost. She was put into care for her mental instability and it is hinted that she is raped by her caretakers. This woman went mad with the help of men who didn’t listen and sexually assaulted her. This novel is unique because it gives the reader a look into the life of Bertha, a woman who was dismissed as crazy and denied a chance to justify her madness. It depicts the same portrayal of mad women seen in Snow White and Jane Eyre but it gives these “mad women” a voice to tell their stories. This voice revealed the injustices that drove them to madness.

Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea contains labeling of mad women as almost inhuman parallel to “Snow White” and Jane Eyre. Even as the Evil Queen in “Snow White” is given a voice, the only words she spits out are laced with hatred or beguilement. However, Rhys’s novel provides a full-bodied version of the oft-denied voice of this perceived other. A voice that tells a story about hardships and injustices practiced against them. A voice that explains that the very men dismissing them as mad are the ones responsible for their madness; Antoinette mourns the life lost to atrocities committed against her, and is still dismissed by her society. The women in “Snow White” and Jane Eyre are puppets in a patriarchal agenda to convince female readers that deviance from the norm will earn them no love, and both the pure and the monstrous are tools used to manipulate women, or are written by women manipulated by this oppression. Jean Rhys does not shy away from stripping the layers back off this abuse to reveal the imperfect insides that all women possess, the beauty that comes with being fully human and female.


Brontë, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. Peterborough, Ont: Broadview Press, 1999. Print.

Grant-Schaefer, G. A. (George Alfred), 1872-1939. “Snow-White and the Seven Dwarfs : an Operetta in Three Acts, Based on Grimm Brothers’ Tale.” 1938: n. pag. Print.

Rhys, Jean, Judith L. Raiskin, and Charlotte Brontë. Wide Sargasso Sea. New York: W.W. Norton, 1999.









Reflection 2

Molly Cartwright

“Deferred Dream”

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

                                                                         -Langston Hughes, Collected Poems,1994

       The poem “Dream Deferred” by Langston Hughes explores the possibilities of what can happen when our dreams are denied. He asks if a deferred dream goes away, or if it remains unhealed and festering until the death of us. He asks if our once life-giving dream turns into something horrifying that haunts us, or if our denied dream becomes sweeter with time. Finally, he asks if our dream, heavy with importance, weighs down on our hearts when denied, or if our dream violently explodes when unanswered. This poem can be used to evaluate the consequences of deferred dreams in diverse contexts and provide us with a multitude of answers rather than a definite answer.

Hughes poem is a response to the denied dreams of African American to secure equality. Unfortunately, his question about deferred dreams still remains relevant today being that black Americans have yet to attain their dream of equality. Hughes’ suggestion that deferred dreams may explode is validated by the outburst of racial riots and violence occurring today, such as Ferguson riots, Charlottesville riots, Trayvon Martin violence, and Manuel Diaz violence. After so many failed attempts to end police brutality and oppressive systems of racism, black Americans feel both outraged and helpless as their dream remains deferred. This outrage and hopelessness mixes to create a violent and explosive response.

While this poem provides as a useful tool for evaluating the deferred dreams of African American both in the present and past, it also can be used to evaluate deferred dreams in other contexts. In the context of Nightwood, Nora’s dream of sharing a loving relationship with Robin is deferred by Robin’s addiction to women, alcohol, and other deviances of the night. Nora gives all of herself to Robin and watches her dream become deferred through Robin’s negligence. In the context of Nora’s situation, her deferred dream will haunt her like the lingering smell of rotten meat in Hughes’ poem. Her dream will remain festering and unhealed until the death of her. This can be the assumed pathway of her deferred dream because of Nora’s persistent questions about Robin and her suffering to the doctor. She even continues to pursue Robin in America when she understands her destructive and cruel behavior. She accepts she will not love anyone like she loves Robin. She will not find a better dream than her deferred dream. Her continued longing for Robin represents a haunting deferred dream that will destroy her.

In the context of the short film “SHIFT”, deferred dreams elicit multiple of Hughes’ suggested outcomes. When the boss first delivered bad news, one Asian man was frustrated and refused a slice of pizza. After the next bad news about the office closing down, the same man seemed much more hopeless and accepted a slice of pizza. In reference to Hughes’ poem, this man’s deferred dream caused his heart to sag down heavy with hopelessness. Another man, before hearing the second wave of bad news, was already expressing suicidal thoughts. This man’s response to his deferred dream of economic stability aligned with the explosive response described in Hughes’ poem. Within a similar context, two men expressed different outcomes from a deferred dream.

Within the contexts of the African American experience, Nightwood, and “SHIFT” people express different aftereffects from deferred dreams. The multitude of diverse outcomes are a result of diverse dreams, social contexts, amount of time denied, and whether dreams are held collectively or individually.  These many different responses highlight the possibility for multiple of Hughes’ suggested outcomes to be true rather than just one definite answer. Hughes’ use of a question at both the beginning and the end also suggests the answer is ambiguous. In Nightwood, the ambiguity of deferred dreams is reflected by its open ending. This ambiguity also seems to be a source of suffering as seen by Nora’s suffering from struggling to understand how to handle her deferred dream.  “SHIFT” also ends unanswered just like deferred dreams. All of these open-ended works involving deferred dreams show the overall ambiguity and many possible outcomes of deferred dreams in the face of diverse contexts. The only definite answer that can be given is that deferred dreams result in ambiguity.




Frazier, Charles. Nightwoods: A Novel. New York: Random House, 2011. Print.

Hughes, Langston. “Harlem by Langston Hughes.” Poetry Foundation, Poetry Foundation,

Link to “SHIFT” by Jonathan Yi


Reflection 1 by Molly Cartwright

     Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom responds to the practice of slavery that was justified based on racial differences. William Craft bases his entire narrative on the belief that race, as a biological category, doesn’t exist. Rather, race is socially constructed and perceived racial differences are based on prejudice beliefs that create a corrupt and unequal society. While Craft understands the clear evil rooted in perceived racial differences and slavery, he knows his white audience may not be easily convinced of this truth. So, with careful consideration of his audience, Craft aims to change people’s views on slavery as a system and the individual rights and liberties of an African American by pointing out the hypocrisy of people owning white slaves.

By pointing out the hypocrisy of people owning white slaves, Craft makes the audience feel vulnerable to slavery and more empathetic. Craft describes how the offspring of master-slave relationships are increasingly white looking and how white children are accidentally or purposefully forced into slavery. This warns reader that white people are not safe from this system because those in power will overlook race, even with it being the justification for slavery, if it means making more money. By showing the audience in the very beginning that white people are not fully protected from the tyranny of slavery, it gives the audience a different perspective that will affect how the audiences takes in the rest of the narrative. Hopefully, the fear of being in that position themselves will allow people to see slavery for what it truly is and empathize with slaves. While people should be able to empathize with slaves without being threatened by the same fate, prejudice ideas have contaminated morals and beliefs about human rights in order to exploit and make economic gain off the oppressed. But by pointing out that racial differences do not protect white people from this evil system, many will change their beliefs. This rhetoric strategy is also used in Mathew Maconaughy’s closing argument in A Time to Kill. Mathew describes the rape of a black seventeen-year-old girl and then asks the court to imagine if she was white. By picturing the horrendous crime happening to a white girl rather than black, the white jury is able to empathize and see what a racist free verdict would be. The rhetoric strategy of getting your audience to empathize and see things from the other perspective has a powerful effect on beliefs.

Craft prioritized changing his white audience’s views over writing without consideration for a white audience. Considering how to best influence his white audience’s beliefs, changed what Craft included in his writing. If Craft was not using this narrative as a strategy to change his audience’s beliefs he wouldn’t have made an effort to point out white slavery. After his experience through slavery, it would be extremely shocking if he took time in his writing to empathize for white people in any way, even if they were trapped in slavery. Craft was able to identify that his audience couldn’t see the evil of slavery without being scarred into empathizing even when he easily could. Including a topic, that would otherwise be absent, for the sake of influencing the audience’s beliefs shows Crafts dedication to changing ideas about slavery.


Link to A Time to Kill speech:

Link to  Running a Thousand Miles For Freedom; Or, the Escape of William and Ellen Craft from Slavery (1860)