Tag Archives: motive


Tortoise Tuesday: Building Motive in “The American President”

Though mostly regarded as a form of entertainment, movies oftentimes contain powerful examples of rhetoric and quality writing, especially cinematic classics. In “The American President” (1995), Michael Douglas plays President Andrew Shepherd running for reelection against Senator Bob Rumson. Well-structured and well-argued, Shepherd’s speech at the end of the movie features a series of strong motives building off one another that explains why his speech is significant and needs to be presented in that moment. Shepherd begins by addressing Rumson’s attacks on his character head-on, then transitions into discussing the fragility of the state of freedom, both heated issues in the election campaign that Shepherd must immediately handle. He then returns to the question of character by defending his girlfriend’s character, which had been attacked by Rumson. His speech ends with two concrete actions he is prepared to undertake to fix certain problems in the country, concerns brought up in the campaign trail. Throughout his speech, his motive builds and expands, as the audience comes to understand Shepherd’s purpose in delivering the speech: to clear his name from the attacks of his political rival and to prove to the American people that he is the best person for leading the nation.

—Regina Zeng ’18

For the last couple of months, Senator Rumson has suggested that being President of this country was, to a certain extent, about character. And although I’ve not been willing to engage in his attacks on me, I have been here three years and three days, and I can tell you without hesitation: Being President of this country is entirely about character.

For the record, yes, I am a card-carrying member of the ACLU, but the more important question is “Why aren’t you, Bob?” Now this is an organization whose sole purpose is to defend the Bill of Rights, so it naturally begs the question, why would a senator, his party’s most powerful spokesman and a candidate for President, choose to reject upholding the constitution? Now if you can answer that question, folks, then you’re smarter than I am, because I didn’t understand it until a few hours ago.

America isn’t easy. America is advanced citizenship. You’ve gotta want it bad, ’cause it’s gonna put up a fight. It’s gonna say, “You want free speech? Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours.” You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country cannot just be a flag. The symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest. Now show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms.

Then you can stand up and sing about the land of the free.

I’ve known Bob Rumson for years. And I’ve been operating under the assumption that the reason Bob devotes so much time and energy to shouting at the rain was that he simply didn’t get it. Well, I was wrong. Bob’s problem isn’t that he doesn’t get it. Bob’s problem is that he can’t sell it!

We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious people to solve them. And whatever your particular problem is, I promise you Bob Rumson is not the least bit interested in solving it. He is interested in two things, and two things only: making you afraid of it, and telling you who’s to blame for it. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you win elections. You gather a group of middle age, middle class, middle income voters who remember with longing an easier time, and you talk to them about family, and American values and character, and you wave an old photo of the President’s girlfriend and you scream about patriotism. You tell them she’s to blame for their lot in life. And you go on television and you call her a whore.

Sydney Ellen Wade has done nothing to you, Bob. She has done nothing but put herself through school, represent the interests of public school teachers, and lobby for the safety of our natural resources. You want a character debate, Bob? You better stick with me, ’cause Sydney Ellen Wade is way out of your league.

I’ve loved two women in my life. I lost one to cancer. And I lost the other ’cause I was so busy keeping my job, I forgot to do my job. Well, that ends right now.

Tomorrow morning the White House is sending a bill to Congress for it’s consideration. It’s White House Resolution 455, an energy bill requiring a twenty percent reduction of the emission of fossil fuels over the next ten years. It is by far the most aggressive stride ever taken in the fight to reverse the effects of global warming. The other piece of legislation is the crime bill. As of today, it no longer exists. I’m throwing it out. I’m throwing it out and writing a law that makes sense. You cannot address crime prevention without getting rid of assault weapons and hand guns. I consider them a threat to national security, and I will go door to door if I have to, but I’m gonna convince Americans that I’m right, and I’m gonna get the guns.

We’ve got serious problems, and we need serious people. And if you want to talk about character, Bob, you’d better come at me with more than a burning flag and a membership card. If you want to talk about character and American values, fine. Just tell me where and when, and I’ll show up. This a time for serious people, Bob, and your fifteen minutes are up.”

Andrew Shepard’s Speech From The American President


Tortoise Tuesday: Motive in Hamilton

One thing I’ve come to realize, as a theater certificate student just starting to think about independent work, is that even creative projects have a motive. There has to be a justification for putting on this play, in this place, at this time, and in this unique way. Rarely does the performance itself present the motive so explicitly as does Lin-Manuel Miranda’s blockbuster Broadway musical Hamilton. In “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story”, Angelica raps about the musical’s eponymous lead: “Every other founding father’s story gets told/Every other founding father gets to grow old.” In one couplet, she justifies the musical biography of Alexander Hamilton, a founding father whose historical life has failed to capture the public’s imagination, despite the enormous political and economic legacy he left behind. In other words, Hamilton just “doesn’t get enough credit for all the credit he gave us.”

                                                                                                                  —Annabel Barry ’19

He took our country from bankruptcy to prosperity.
I hate to admit it, but he doesn’t get enough credit for all the credit he gave us.
Who lives
Who dies
Who tells your story?
Every other founding father’s story gets told.
Every other founding father gets to grow old.
But when you’re gone, who remembers your name?
Who keeps your flame?
Who tells your story?

Motive, Spring 2017

Farming the Future at Princeton

In a Tortoiseshell: Sam’s paper contains a strong example of motive and the steps one must take to establish the importance of a paper’s line of inquiry. Considering sustainability as service, this passage demonstrates the logical progression of motive from global problems to more localized, solvable issues. From this progression of “macro” to “micro” motive, we gain a greater sense of the paper’s scope and relevance to the larger issues at hand.

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Against-the-grain arguments, Spring 2017

A Pool of Thought: Modest Water’s Mighty Work in ‘To the Lighthouse’

In a Tortoiseshell: In this paper about introspection in To The Lighthouse, Carolyn Kelly’s against-the-grain approach to Woolf’s novel examines the significance of smaller, less obvious details as they recur throughout the text. In the first paragraph of her introduction, Kelly constructs motive by orienting readers to how water imagery in To the Lighthouse is typically read. She then disrupts this context in the following paragraphs, illustrating why and how her close reading of overlooked bodies of water in the text can shed light on Woolf’s large project.

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Motive, Spring 2017

A Wave for Hillary? Feminism and the Generational Divide in Democratic Women Voters

In a Tortoiseshell: In this excerpt from Pragya’s writing seminar research paper (the “R3”), she analyzes the generational split in female support for Hillary Clinton during the November 2016 election, This introduction is a great example of how to approach a risky, controversial topic by grounding the argument in data, engaging with the existing literature to build an original theoretical framework, and motivating it all with relevance to current events. 

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Motive, Spring 2017


Motive begins with a question or a problem. This can be in the form of a gap in the evidence, a puzzling passage, or a new phenomenon. Thus, motive is the driving force behind an essay’s line of inquiry or argument. It is the question to which the author hopes to provide an answer.

Without a strong motive, it is difficult for readers to grasp the reason for a certain paper’s existence. Even the most brilliant points can seem meaningless without an understanding of the posed question. Even then, motive must extend beyond just this initial question. The motive of a paper has to be compelling enough to imbue readers with a sense of that paper’s significance. It ultimately helps answer the question, “Why does it all matter?” It helps readers understand not only why a paper was written but also why they should care that the paper was written at all.

In this section of 2017’s issue of Tortoise, we learn that, in asking the right questions and providing the necessary context, Sam Rob ’18’s paper about farming at Princeton brings to light larger environmental issues at work in the world. Similarly, Pragya Malik ’19’s paper demonstrates broader societal trends that could influence elections beyond the tumultuous 2016 cycle through her discussion of the generational divide governing the demographics of Hillary Clinton’s supporters. These compelling ideas and their implications ultimately owe their existence to motive.

Motive, Spring 2016

Politicized Nostalgia in Lat’s ‘The Kampung Boy’

In a Tortoiseshell: Jenny Silver’s essay seeks to provide an alternative interpretation of Lat’s work ‘The Kampung Boy’ by bringing in theoretical frameworks from scholars in non-literary fields. By clearly situating herself in the scholarly conversation and showing how she differs in her thinking, analysis, and conclusions from established critics, Jenny displays a remarkably good use of motive in the paragraphs excerpted below.

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The immunological consequences of Caesarean sections as associated with host susceptibility to a human papillomavirus (HPV) infection

In a Tortoiseshell: In Isabella’s fall junior paper for Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, she explores how Caesarean sections can affect offspring immunity such that the offspring may become more susceptible to HPV infection. The introduction of the paper is notable for its clear development of scholarly and popular motive, which helps the reader understand the importance of this research, both to expanding biological knowledge and to helping us understand patterns of disease prevalence.

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