45 Diving Further into Bitzer’s Rhetorical Situation

Cameron Hite

I am writing for those who are primarily interested in learning more about this particular term. Grades 9-12 would be the most inclined to learn more about this and how the rhetorical situation uses these different components.

 Keywords: Exigence, Audience, Constraints, Personal

The rhetorical situation is a theory that is involved in my life almost every day, and every hour. I choose this theory because it is important to understand due to it constantly being around us, unique in a way. Unique because of how many different ways one could interpret this theory. There’s not solely one definition that you could pull from a book. However, it is how you see it panning out in your personal lives. To me, I would define the rhetorical situation as identifying a situation, seeing the problem, and what we can do to fix this said problem. Also, what is going to be holding us back from resolving the problem. Lloyd Bitzer defined it as this, “rhetorical situation may be defined as a complex of persons, events, objects…….Prior to the creation and presentation of discourse, there are three constituents of any rhetorical situation: the first is the exigence; the second and third are elements of the complex, namely the audience to be constrained in decision and action, and the constraints which influence the rhetor and can be brought to bear upon the audience.” Throughout my chapter, I will be analyzing how the rhetorical situation uses personal stories to connect to the audience and viewers. This is something that can be overlooked at times by many individuals but is often the sole reason that people feel attached or connected to the story. I want to teach others to be aware of this theory, and practice in order for them to be able to detect it the next time they come across this technique. For my piece of evidence that I will refer back to throughout my chapter, I will be discussing Jimmy Valvano’s famous speech, “Don’t Give Up, Don’t ever Give up.” This speech was important to me because of the icon that Jimmy V was to myself, and many other people that adored him and his work for the sports world.


When individuals see Bitzer’s rhetorical situation, they may not know what is really drawing their attention. I believe that exigence can be one of these main attention getters that really catches their eye. In Jimmy V’s speech, we are able to identify the exigence very early within the title, and how he states that he does not know how much time he has left. Jimmy V has been diagnosed with cancer and explains throughout his speech that it does not matter about how much time there is, but what we can do with the time. Bitzer’s definition for exigence is, “an imperfection marked by urgency; it is a defect, an obstacle, something waiting to be done, a thing which is other than it should be.” The problem that we are left with is that cancer is a disease that is very dangerous and life threatening to many. What exigence really comes down to is being something that is in the middle of the road, and not allowing you to get to your desired destination. A clear example of this is right in the very speech. This terrible disease is preventing Jimmy V to live life in certain ways that he wants to. This it not only a problem that Jimmy V is explaining to others to educate them on the topic but is also something that he is dealing with in a very serious manner. It is very important for the speaker to let the audience know what the exigence is and in a clear way. Without being able to fully understand what the problem is we as the audience cannot move forward in identifying the constraints. This is important because the readers need to fully understand what is exactly holding the speaker back from achieving their main goal.


From the very start of the speech, Jimmy V engages the audience with personal stories. He is able to pull in and draw the audience’s attention into what he is going to state in his speech. For Bitzer, “rhetoric is always persuasive, so a persuadable audience is important.” In the speech, Jimmy V discusses how he was a first-year coach and how he was going to deliver a pregame speech modeling something he had heard from his idol coach, Vince Lombardi. He states,

I’m reading this in this book. I’m getting this picture of Lombardi before his first game,

and he said, “Gentlemen, we will be successful this year, if you can focus on three things

and three things only. Your family, your religion and the Green Bay Packers.” They

knocked the walls down, and the rest was history. I said, “That’s beautiful.” I’m going to do that. Your family, your religion and Rutgers basketball. That’s it. I had it. Listen, I’m 21 years old. The kids I’m coaching are 19, and I’m going to be the greatest coach in the world, the next Lombardi.

What this does is establish that connection that the audience can have in sports and a personal story about Jimmy V. These personal stories help connect the speaker to the audience. He is essentially using something that the audience is familiar with, which is college basketball.  Jimmy V does this to draw that attention from the crowd and explain why he is giving a speech. When I watched this speech and heard Jimmy V tell this story with so much passion and excitement, I was immediately drawn into what he was there to say to the audience.


Overcoming the constraints is one of the major problems and issues that Jimmy V discusses throughout his speech. These constraints are defined as, “any factors that restrict the persuasive strategies or opportunities available to a speaker or writer are called constraints.” One of these main constraints I believe began with the mental side of it, the time, and effort. Jimmy V exclaims how cancer has taken a huge toll on his body in a physical way. He states this while telling us that he does not know how much time he has left, but what he does know is that he is going to fight for every second that he does have. Jimmy is leading the audience into making the most out of their situation and using the time that we all have to make a difference. He does not want a constraint to define the way we live, however use it for fuel and power to go out and help the fight against it. Another major constraint that we run into with this issue is money. We are simply not putting enough emphasis on this issue and disease to have the proper funding that we need in order to address a vaccine of some sort. In his speech Jimmy V states that

Arthur Ashe Foundation is a wonderful thing, and AIDS, the amount of money pouring in for AIDS is not enough, but it is significant. But if I told you it’s 10 times the amount that goes into cancer research, I also told you that 500,000 people will die this year of cancer, and I also tell you that one in every four will be afflicted with this disease. And yet somehow, we seem to have put it in a little bit of the background. I want to bring it back on the front table.

Jimmy V is identifying the constraints and laying them out on a platter for us to see and take action.

Using Bitzer’s rhetorical situation, I have analyzed Jimmy V’s speech. He fully engages his audience and keeps them interested throughout. He hits all of his points in a clear and cohesive way. We as the audience are also following along with the exigence, constraints, and the intended audience. Jimmy V connects to his audience and gathers their attention. By doing this, we also feel like we can have a voice in resolving the problem and be a factor in fixing the major issue.

Works Cited


Bitzer, Lloyd F. “The Rhetorical Situation.” Philosophy & Rhetoric, vol. 1, no. 1, 1968, pp. 1–14. JSTOR, Jan. 1968. www.jstor.org/stable/40236733.

Edlund, John. “What We Talk About When We Talk About ‘Exigence.’” Teaching Text Rhetorically, 2 July 2019, https://textrhet.com/2019/07/02/what-we-talk-about-when-we-talk-about-exigence/.

Lee, Jacklyn. “The Rhetorical Situation.” Medium, 13 Sept. 2017, https://medium.com/@Jacklyn_Lee/the-rhetorical-situation-85013354284b.

Melfi, Ashley “Jimmy V’s Espys Speech Annotated.” ESPN.Com,18 July. 2018.https://www.espn.com/espn/feature/story/_/id/24087641/jimmy-v-espys-speech-annotated.

Nordquist, Richard. “Rhetoric: Definitions and Observations” ThoughtCo, 3 July. 2019. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-constraints-rhetoric-1689915.


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Rhetoric in Everyday Life by Cameron Hite is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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