Will Smith briefly plays basketball with his young son. After telling him that his son is going pro, he tells him not to spend as much time on basketball. He is angry and quits playing. Smith realizes that it is better to help his dream than discourage him. Smith then gives his son a speech in which he explains to him that his dream should be protected no matter what others say. Although it’s a brief speech, it offers valuable lessons about life that will help people pursue their dreams. Will Smith delivers “The Pursuit of Happyness” with a persuasive speech that uses word choice, repetition, ethos, pathos, and word choice to effectively communicate the message. Background is an important part of making the speech more effective.
Smith’s son respects him and considers him a authority figure. Smith is a father. He is responsible for his child’s life. Smith’s son isn’t just Smith’s son in film, but also Smith in real life. This gives Smith more credibility and respect. Smith is a father who teaches his child lessons from the experiences of others. This appeals directly to the ethos. Smith’s words are never questioned by his son. Because he respects his father, he believes that what Smith said is true and he accepts it. Smith tells his son that he will never let anyone tell him you can’t accomplish something. Not even me. It’s all right? Smith can tell his son that Smith is a father, but he doesn’t want him to tell his son that Smith can’t do it. He trusts himself and decides to put his trust in his son. Smith tells Smith that he won’t make a good basketball coach in the future. His son reacts by getting upset and throwing a basketball. Smith tells his child to keep his dream alive with emotions such as sorrow and guilt when he realizes he’s wrong. This scene is an appeal to the soul and reflects Smith’s emotions. Because Smith and his son are so hardworking, this scene makes it more personal. They are in dire financial straits and live in terrible conditions. They are forced to live in shelters after being evicted. Smith’s spouse doesn’t understand Smith’s dream. Smith tells them he wants a career as a stockbroker. This is why Smith emotionally addresses his son and tells him to pursue his dream, even though others tell him otherwise.
Smith chooses the right words to express his message to his son. Smith’s speech is not long and rambling. The speech contains simple words that make it more impactful because the audience is able to understand the meaning of the words. Even though it only contains basic words, the messages he conveys are powerful. He is sincere in every word he speaks. He uses many reinforce words to emphasise his points. Instead saying, “Don’t let someone tell your that you can’t” he actually says, “Don’t allow anyone to tell YOU that you can’t do it.” This shows that he is serious and makes the audience pay attention. Smith’s speech includes repetition. Smith stated, “Don’t let anybody tell you that it’s impossible to do something.” To emphasize their importance, Smith uses these words and phrases frequently. He wants to communicate the message that dreams shouldn’t be discouraged. It is possible to have a dream. Believe in yourself to achieve your dreams.
The background plays a significant role in all rhetorical elements that make the speech stronger. Smith and his son are in a difficult financial position. Smith loses his job, gets divorced, and is evicted. His powerful speech to son is a result of all these events. While it is important to know your background, but anyone can go anywhere. Smith also mentioned to his son his background. Smith was not from a family of success or wealth, and he believed his son would not succeed on the basketball court. Smith manages to overcome his financial difficulties and is successful.
Smith’s speech utilized rhetorical elements such persuasive appeals like word choice, ethos, pathos, word selection, repetition with the backdrop, which enhanced the speech’s power. This speech is meant for people who have dreams and are working hard to achieve them. People will tell anyone that they are incapable of doing something. But they must keep going after their dreams regardless of what other people think. It is worth chasing dreams and fighting for them. This speech isn’t just for people who dream big, it’s also for people who serve as role models. This speech highlighted the dangers of role models expressing negative comments to those who look up. Role models need be aware of their words and listen to others. Their words can have a profound impact on someone’s lives. Role models should encourage and not discourage them.
Muccino, Gabriele, director. The Pursuit of Happiness. Sony Pictures, 2006.