The Company Man by Ellen Goodman

Intention:  The intention of the piece is to force readers to think about family, loved ones, what they truly value and how they spend their time.  It is supposed to make readers want to expend their energy on things that mean something to them and not waste their time away.

>Goodman tells the story of Phil, a hard working businessman who eventually worked himself to death.  She uses the name ‘company man’ to show how Phil was not just a man, but he was an extension of his work.  In the essay, Goodman uses Phil’s name only a handful of times.  By not saying his name, she uses Phil as a symbol for all businessmen and women who work themselves to literal death.

One of the most powerful lines in the essay is the last line.  At the end of the narrative, Phil’s boss begins to look for a replacement for him the day of the funeral and asks, “who’s been working the hardest?”  Goodman used this anecdote to show how what happened to Phil can and will happen to anyone.  This question represents the vicious cycle that is present in today’s world.  Even though Phil had just worked himself to death, the next person to take his place was supposed to be someone who had been, ‘working the hardest.’  Goodman mocks modern culture and how there is no time to waste, but only time to work.

Because this essay tells the story of Phil’s life and interacts with his family, the entire essay is dripping in pathos.  The essay talks about each of his family members and how close they were to their father or husband.  With each story, it is obvious that Phil spent so much time at work that he did not really know his family.  When a family friend comes up to his wife and says, “I know how much you will miss him,” his wife replies, “I already have.”  Phil’s wife implies that she has missed him long before he was dead.  To not be close to your family, or even know them really, is a very difficult situation to be in for anyone.  The very little relationship between Phil and his family evoke a lot of emotion from the reader.  This emotion makes the reader think about Goodmans point that one should spend time on things of real value not just monetary value because one day they will be gone.

–Samantha Smith

Throughout this essay we are constantly given insight into the narrator’s opinion of the company man. Readers become aware that the narrator thinks down on him. This is concluded from the sarcastic and bitter tone used throughout the essay. We see her bitter tone towards the company man when she states, “He worked like the Important People”. This rhetorical strategy of capitalizing important people and emphasizing his work efforts are seen as sarcasm, revealing the company man was not so important after all. We see this attitude again when Goodman mentions the three choices for his replacement. Goodman critical tone attacks the company man’s weight, dress, and even the way he ate. The sarcastic tone in this essay influences readers to look down on the company man.

Goodman uses pathos in this essay to evoke sympathy for the family of the company man. Goodman begins by explaining the situation in which the company man died, adding in small inputs from his family members such as how his children felt about him. However we reach an emotional climax when a company friend gives their condolences to the wife of the company man saying, “I know how much you will miss him” and the wife replying, “I already have”. This point evokes pathos from the audience as they relate to this feeling of loneliness. Readers from this point on feel sympathy for the family as the essay progresses. Readers relate to the widow as she feels bitterness towards the company president. By evoking pathos and having an emotional climax earlier in the essay, Goodman creates an emotional connection between the readers and the family of the company man.

This essay is delivered in the form of a parable. A parable is a simple story used to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson, as told by Jesus in the Gospels. Parables are often exaggerations. Goodman’s use of a parable for this particular essay is very effective. Her use of exaggeration helps readers easily understand the message from the essay. By using nonspecific nouns like the company man readers can relate easily to the story. Parable’s are used to convey a simple message. Yet they are used because they are memorable and effective. Goodman’s use of a parable gives readers an interesting and persuasive essay.
–Caroline Steinmetz

Goodman narrates the story of Phil with a distinct tone. She is conversational, and her description is full of voice. When explaining what Phil died from, she says, “a coronary thrombosis-I think that was it.” Injecting herself into the story, as a first person narrator, but still removed from the action contributes to the relaxed presentation of a serious topic.

Goodman uses epithets to describe the characters, who go unnamed throughout a large chunk of the essay. She especially favors using their ages: “the sixty-year-old company president told the forty-eight-year-old widow that the fifty-one-year-old deceased had meant much to the company.” By using a quantity as a characterization tool, Goodman creates a ranking. Age is correlated to status in Phil’s company. Using epithets instead of names offers a description of the character, defining them by something other than their name, and establishing what is important about them.  

Goodman establishes a contrast between what the obituary said and what the truth was. This back-and-forth maneuver throughout the piece forces the audience to consider their own perspectives and experiences on this issue and how they are getting their information on it. The audience is forced to confront what may lie underneath the surface.

-Rachel Meyer

 

Litotes: This entire essay, Goodman is undermining who the man is fundamentally as a person. It talks about his personal life, yes, but overpowers it with how obsessed with working he is. Therefore, his character is disregarded and left behind in order to excel in the company, something Goodman is obviously trying to get across.

Pathos: This piece has pathos because it’s sad to see someone so obsessed with work, or anything really, that they lose themselves as individuals. The essay is really set to attract the sympathy of the reader because we all know what it’s like to be too busy and not be able to enjoy yourself or the time you have alone.

Parallelism: Although this essay is focussed on the problems of conformity, I think it could be interpreted in many different ways. The example of the man in the book is that his obsession, his addiction is working and moving up in his job, but there are plenty of other examples such as drug and alcohol related addictions where someone loses themselves in a different yet somehow very similar way.

Mary Beiter

The author utilizes numbers in two ways. By utilizing numbers throughout her piece, Goodman establishes logos for her argument. When you assign a solid time or figure to something, it makes an abstract concept seems more realistic. For example, when Goodman says “He worked himself to death, finally and precisely, at 3:00 a.m. Sunday morning.” By assigning his death an exact time, Goodman makes his death seem like more of a black and white figure than an abstract event. Throughout the entirety of the pieces, she assigns numbers to show the actual reality of events versus the subject’s perceived reality as well. She uses numbers to show that his second child, a mere “girl,” is actually twenty four. She uses numbers to show that he was not just overweight, but overweight by 20 or 25 pounds. She uses numbers to show that there is a conceivable difference between Phil’s perceived reality and the actual reality.

The author also uses a strong use of juxtaposition in order to emphasize her points. One example of this is when “The company president had begun, discreetly of course, with care and taste, to make inquires about his replacement” while still at the funeral. By pairing this obviously inappropriate scene at a funeral with the descriptors “with care and taste,” the author shows how desensitized and uncaring the business world is.

The arrangement of this essay was very important-also utilizing time. The opening and second to last paragraphs both contained the statement “He worked himself to death, finally and precisely, at 3:00 a.m. Sunday morning.” By beginning and ending with this statement, the author insured that the reader was aware of what truly ended Phil’s life.

-Sarah Braunstein

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