The rebuttal should use evidence, persuasive and rhetorical techniques, and reasoning to make the original argument seem false or purposeless. It is a common literary technique that can be found most commonly in plays, novels, and short stories. It is also, as the definition suggests, quite a common occurrence in everyday life.
Definition of Rebuttal
A rebuttal is the response one gives to an opponent’s argument. It should differ in opinion from the original argument and contain attempts to disprove what’s just been discussed. In classic rebuttals, a clear, professional tone is used, and the speaker uses real evidence in order to destroy their opponent’s side. It is used in law, politics, literature, everyday life, and in academic settings. A rebuttal can be given about any topic about which one has a different opinion.
Parts of a Rebuttal
While there are many different ways one might go about disproving their opponent’s argument, in a formal rebuttal, there are certain features one must take note of. First, the rebuttal must contain a clear and concisely delivered argument. Rambling and excessive talking is usually not helpful in one’s attempts to destroy one opponent’s suggestions. The rebuttal should use well-reasoned evidence to undermine the other viewpoint. It has to be logical, true, and well-researched. Falsehoods are not going to help. Finally, the rebuttal has to be delivered without any emotional attacks. Meaning, one should not channel their irritation into their speech.
Examples of Rebuttals
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
One of the most famous literary courtroom scenes features in To Kill a Mockingbird. The narrator’s father, Atticus, is defending Tom Robinson, in court. The latter has been accused of attacking and raping a white woman and is being tried for the offense. Atticus knows that he’s innocent and that he’s being targeted because he’s black. Here are a few lines from his rebuttal:
What did her father do? We don’t know, but there is circumstantial evidence to indicate that Mayella Ewell was beaten savagely by someone who led most exclusively with his left.
Atticus speaks calmly, cooly, and in a way that any juror could respect. He delivers evidence that they need to understand the case well. He then goes on to say:
We do know in part what Mr. Ewell did: he did what any Go-fearing, preserving, respectable white man would do under circumstances-he swore a warrant, no doubt signing with his left hand, and Tom Robinson now sits before you, having taken the oath with the only good hand he possesses-his right hand.
Here, he clearly lays out the fact that Mayella was beaten by someone who was left-handed while adding that Tom Robinson is right-handed.
Rebuttal in the Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser by Benjamin Franklin
This publication contains a famous example of a rebuttal written by Benjamin Franklin. He was opposing a previously stated argument, by Vindex Patriae, about the right to representation in Parliament for the colonists. Franklin provided this response in the form of an op-ed:
Pray let me, an American, inform the gentleman, who seems quite ignorant of the matter, that Indian corn, take it for all in all, is one of the most aggregable and wholesome grains in the world; that its green ears roasted are a delicacy beyond expression; that samp, hominy, succotash, and nolehock, made of it, are so many pleasing varieties; and that a johny, or hoecake, hot from the fire, is better than a Yorkshire muffin.
Franklin demonstrates all the parts of a rebuttal in these lines. He’s clear, articulate, and easy to understand. He speaks on the virtues of American corn and uses the op-ed as an opportunity to dismiss Patriae’s opinion of the colonist’s diet.
He ends his rebuttal with the following question:
But if Indian corn were as disagreeable and indigestible as the Stamp Act, does he imagine we can get nothing else for breakfast?
Clever turns of phrase and wit are also often parts of rebuttals. Audiences, jurors, and even academic audiences are often further convinced by small displays of the writer or speaker’s wit.
“I Have a Dream” Speech by Martin Luther King Jr.
This incredibly famous speech contains a few lines that readers can consider as a rebuttal. King says:
There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, “When will you be satisfied?” We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality.
He asks a question and then answers it, ensuring that those listening understand his position.
Rebuttal or Counter Argument
These two literary terms are similar, but they do have some differences. Counter arguments are used to negate one’s own points. This is done in order to lead the listener up to a broader, more important conclusion. They are also used to preemptively address a point the other side is going to bring up. It allows someone to define their own weakness rather than allow the other side to do it for them. Rebuttals are direct responses to the opponent’s arguments. They highlight the errors in the other side’s arguments and make sure the listeners, perhaps a jury, group of one’s peers, or a literary audience, understand where the other side went wrong.
Related Literary Terms
- Ad Hominem: uses irrelevant information in an attempt to discredit someone’s opinion or argument.
- Argument: a piece of literature is a statement towards the beginning of a work that declares what it’s going to be about.
- Bandwagon: a persuasive style of writing that is used to convince readers of an argument or make them understand a certain perspective.
- Characterization: a literary device that is used to detail and explains the aspects of a specifically crafted character in a novel, play, or poem.
- Conflict: a plot device used by writers when two opposing sides come up against each other.