After reading the essay "Consider the Lobster" by the famous writer David Foster Wallace, I realized that Wallace had employed a rather sly technique. If you're interested in answering this question, I suggest you read it (or part of it... it's pretty long). If not...

TLDR: This article was written for a culinary magazine, and it offers a review of the Maine Lobster Festival. Wallace begins by providing a positive description of the event in his typical entertainingly humorous tone. As the essay progresses, however, he describes the anatomy of a lobster and the methods with which it is usually prepared, sustaining his positive spin but sowing a bit of disgust and discomfort in the reader's mind. He then turns on the event as well, decrying its irritating pitfalls and the unsavory crowd that it attracts. He eventually delves into a full-blown philosophical discussion about the ethics of boiling lobsters alive, bringing the reader with him on a moral and scientific tirade that provides a thorough exploration of the issue.

By beginning his article in the way that any typical culinary-magazine-reader would expect, he allows the reader to make an investment of time and emotion in the essay so that when he turns the tables and betrays the reader's expectations, he/she will be more likely to keep reading. In this way, he tricks the reader into "eating his/her philosophical vegetables" by presenting what looks like an easy read but is actually an ethical analysis. This is a very clever technique, but this essay is the first in which I have ever seen it used.

QUESTION: Is this a common technique? Can you provide any other examples of articles/essays/etc. that use it to trick the reader into consuming an uncomfortable message? Is there a name for this technique?

3 Answers 3



It's a fairly common tactic to initially appeal to people in a manner they find non-threatening, only to gradually introduce an uncomfortable or controversial take on something. Often, the author will do their best to use charm and play on sympathy and apparent commonalities with their audience, before turning and undermining the very thing they were previously using as an appeal.

If the reader is convinced, the manipulative tactic might be forgiven - but many people can be left with a bad taste in their mouths if the manipulativeness is too obvious, or the controversial arguments are not sufficiently convincing.


Broadly, it is satire.

Emily Calandrelli did a TEDxTalk called Space Exploration is the Worst, which appears to mock NASA funding, climate change, poor countries without internet, and dumb animals that go extinct. The description calls it "tongue in cheek". The author does not have the same emotional breakdown of Consider the Lobster, but she performs it in-character as a vapid, social-media princess. She is actually the host of a science TV show, but she plays it as anti-science.

Benjamin Franklin's Letter to the Editor of the Journal of Paris, 1784 is credited as the origin of Daylight Savings. After Franklin discovers that the sun shines in the morning (and confirming it through scientific observation) he enthusiastically urges the people of Paris to start using daylight rather than candles, and helpfully calculates the "enormous sum" of money they would save. Realizing none of the Parisian intellectual society will believe him, he suggests a police state of candle rationing and loud noises until Parisians get use to the idea of waking up before noon.


my answer won't be as beautifully worded as your question, but I read a few Tolstoy novels for the characters. I love the characters, even though I'm lost sometimes with the stories! I made it through War and Peace somehow. What I've noticed is that half way through a scene there is a long protracted conversation between two characters that lasts WAY TOO LONG about the best way to handle Russian serfdom or some random political topic relevant to the period that has no purpose to the plot at all, and has no reason to be so detailed or intense.

I decided this is the same kind of thing when I was reading it. A way of giving your persuasively written views to a reader, but 'hidden' in another text.

Sorry if a bit off topic, my example being fiction, but the discovery was interesting for me the same as it's interesting you so I thought you might enjoy the answer.

  • The example is nice but this doesn't really answer his question. Try to be specific besides giving the example. Commented Nov 20, 2018 at 8:47

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