In her passage “Live Free and Starve,” Chitra Divakaruni explains why the United States House of Congress should not have passed the bill, which prohibits the importation of products from factories where child labor is used. As a result, she mentions this bill will negatively affect the lives and livelihood of children and their families in Third World countries. Divakaruni uses multiple persuasive appeals by providing a personal anecdote and by using multiple examples, which enables the reader to relate to an emotional experience of how this bill will adversely affect these children.
Divakaruni opens her argument by seeming to agree with the bill. She writes, “My liberal friends applauded the bill,” (428) stating that the bill was a triumphant advance in the field of human rights. She describes the wretched conditions these children live in, and the horror of forced labor. A vivid use of patriotic phrases in her introduction encourages the reader to become connected to her stance, creating common grounds with her 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 free children could be “free and happy, like American children,” which foreshadows her later contrast of children in America versus children in Third World nations who benefit from different economic structure. However, she expresses her disagreement with the proposed bill.
The author effectively expresses her disapproval by using personal anecdotes, which allows the reader to relate to the situation emotionally. Thus, she uses ethos to further her argument. She gives an example of when she was a girl living in Calcutta, India. There was a child named Nima from an ancestral village who needed to find work in order to help his family, so Divakaruni’s mom hired him as a servant. The working conditions were favorable and this employment allowed this child to support his family. By using this example, the author not only appeals to the reader emotionally, but she also demonstrates that the bill is not applicable in all situations and other cultures. First, by the author’s use of ethos, the reader feels compassion towards this child and his pursuit to support his family. The way in which the author presents the anecdote causes the reader to want the child to succeed; this indirectly brings the reader to support child labor to some extent. Second, this example disproves the notion presented by the bill that all child labor is bad and should be abolished. It provides an exception to this idea, which then proves the argument for the bill being wrong and points out a faulty reasoning in the bill.
She discloses a personal appeal toward the end of her article by giving the reader the brief glimpse into her own experiences with child labor through her anecdote of the child named Nimai, whom her mother had hired. Some could say that this story would make Divakaruni biased and culturally predisposed to accept this form of employment. However, she has avoided this issue by intermixing frequent concessions throughout every argument, keeping her American audience in mind. This brief story gives the reader a name and a face for one of these child laborers, a well-treated child named Nimai who “ate the same food that we children did and was given new clothes,” (249) and was encouraged to “learn to read and write” (249).
Divakaruni goes back to yet another concession, discussing the context of American society, and putting child labor into that perspective. “It is easy for us to make this error,” (249) Divakaruni says, because Americans and even immigrants may have “wiped from their minds the memory” (249) of desperate conditions. She uses this forgiving statement to put her readers at ease again. However, she ends the paragraph by restating her argument that it is still true that these children “prefer bread to freedom” (249). 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 our own society.
Throughout her article, Divakaruni makes an excellent argument by tossing her stance back and forth with the presentation of both the pros and cons of the bill. She exercises caution by agreeing with her target audience, allowing them to hold on to their sympathetic emotions while also using gentle sarcasm and logical appeals to express the other side of the story. Divakaruni includes a personal anecdote, putting a face and name to a child who benefitted from employment, and she is able to use the anecdote to show that, perhaps, allowing child labor is the only way to give these children better lives in a non-American culture. She ends with a strong, powerful thought that will stick in the reader’s mind: the abolishment of child labor could leave these children in worse conditions. Overall, Divakaruni has crafted a convincing argument that is difficult to oppose and has affected the minds of many Americans through her writing.