Literary Analysis: “Common Sense” by Thomas Paine

Words: 1432
Topic: Literature

Plot summary

In his chef-d’oeuvre literary narrative, Common sense, Thomas Paine dwells on the American independence. He explores the inherent and commonly mistaken definitions of society and government. He opens the narrative with a broad rumination of the pertinent issues surrounding governance, religion, and society and then delves into the matters of colonialism.

Common Sense pioneered at the start of 1776 after the conclusion of the inaugural battle of the 1975 Revolutionary War. According to Paine, the society entails all beneficial courses that individuals living together join hands to achieve, while the government is the definition of a body or an institution that ensures that people’s vices are suppressed, and thus individuals do not harm each other (Nash 16).

According to Paine, the best form of governance is democracy, where people choose their leaders coupled with being involved in the lawmaking process. Therefore, the British monarchical system, which colonized Americans, was retrogressive and archaic. For instance, Paine disagrees with the absolute powers granted to the monarchs and contends that the hereditary succession is an insult to the subjects (Marston 85).

In essence, the idea of having a powerful king is unnatural and a fruit of sin from the biblical perspective, whereby the Jews could not live under theocracy, and thus they demanded a king. Paine then digs into the American situation under the British rule, and he rebuts the misconception that America can only survive and thrive under a British king (Nelson 111).

Paine believes that the America’s achievements, as an independent nation, can surpass what it has achieved under colonialism. For instance, the independent colonies can create better navy forces as compared to the British Navy. In addition, as an independent state, America can command international respect, and thus Paine feels that the time for emancipation has come.

Literary elements

The first outstanding literary element in Common Sense is triad, when Paine posits, “In the following pages, I offer nothing more than simple facts, plain arguments, and common sense” (61). The function of a triad is to emphasize an issue in a bid to make sure that the audience gets it right (Cooper and Nothstine 129) and Paine accomplishes this goal by opening his narrative with such a sentence. He also uses tone, which is highly confident.

In other words, Paine adopts a tone that will compel the audience to agree with his arguments and perhaps in a bid to drive the point further and scold those dare to oppose him, he says, “O ye that love mankind! Ye that dare oppose, not only the tyranny, but the tyrant, stand forth!” (Paine 76).

Such literary device bestows convincing power upon the writer, by making the audience feel obligated to agree with whatever is being said. Apparently, Paine’s style yields the desired results as the Americans heed his words, take arms against the colonial masters, and declare independence in 13 colonies by 1783 (Dennehy, Morgan and Assenza 186).

The author also appeals to logos. According to Stiff and Mongeau, “logos refers to the reasoning or logic of an argument…speakers employ logos by presenting credible information as supporting material and verbally citing their sources during their speech” (74). The title, Common Sense, appeals to logos of Paine’s audience, which was Americans under the British subjugation.

In other words, it was common sense that Americans needed to take arms against the British rule and fight for emancipation, and thus Paine’s insinuation is straightforward by using such a title. Paine posits, “a long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives it a superficial appearance of being right, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defence (defense) of custom…but the tumult soon subsides. Time makes more converts than reason” (45).

This assertion appeals to pathos, as it stirs Americans to reflect on how they have tolerated the undeserved atrocities of the colonial masters without questioning. The British monarchical rulers have for long used lies to dupe a section of Americans into believing that they are better under colonialism as compared to functioning as an independent nation.

As a way of appealing to the Americans’ emotions and logic, Paine notes categorically that the “period of debate is over…and by referring the matter from argument to arms, a new era for politics is struck, a new method of thinking has arisen” (61). With such compelling language, Americans have only one choice and that is to fight for freedom no matter the cost.

Paine also uses symbolism throughout the narrative. In his writing, he uses words like “secondary objects” when referring to how the colonial masters perceive the Americans. He notes, “America is only a secondary object in the system of the British politics’ (Paine 71). This symbolism means that America only serves the needs of Britain as an object that can be misused according to the king’s inclinations. Paine also uses the term “parasite” to describe the people around the king.

He rues, “The phrase ‘parent’ or ‘mother country’ hath been jesuitically adopted by the king and his parasites with a low papistical design of gaining an unfair bias…” (64). The term ‘parasites’ here symbolizes the relationship between American and the British colonizers. The king and his people depend on America for personal gains, without America gaining anything in return just as a parasitic relationship in the ecological food chains.

In this case, America is the host, while the British colonial masters are the parasites, who suck nourishment from the America’s rich natural resources. Finally, Paine gives the king a symbol of an animal by claiming that even “brutes do not devour their young, nor savages make war upon their families” (63). Brutes and savages are ruthless beasts and according to Paine, the king falls in that category (Winthrop 300).

Finally, Paine uses theme as a literary element. The theme of government as ‘a necessary evil’ stands out from the beginning of the narration. The government can only be justified if it helps people to constrain their vices, but beyond that point, it is useless and unnecessary (Solinger 599). The other outstanding theme is the inevitability of America gaining independence. The sole purpose of writing Common Sense was to awaken the sleeping American consciousness concerning the British subjugation.

He posits, “Ye that oppose independence now, ye know not what ye do; ye are opening a door to eternal tyranny, by keeping vacant the seat of government” (Paine 76). This assertion underscores the fact that America has to gain independence by all possible means, and for those that cannot stand the idea, they are clueless of what an independent government can do to its subjects.

Paine also highlights the theme of the insufficiencies of a monarchical system by noting that it is the worst form of governance (Claeys 101). In Paine’s view, citizens should have the opportunity to choose their leaders as opposed to automatic succession and he regrets that the “original sin and hereditary succession are parallels” (Paine 59). In other words, the monarchical form of governance is evil.

Historical literary relevance

As aforementioned, Common Sense was released immediately after the end of the first battle of the Revolutionary War. The author arrived in America in the middle of the war and after assessing the situation, he jumped into the political bandwagon to push for America’s emancipation (Hogeland 65). Paine was born and raised in Britain, but he did not support its repressive governance.

Back home in Britain, he was fired after publishing a controversial article claiming that the only way to deal with corruption was to give the tax collectors a better remuneration package (Hitchens 63).

The British rulers of the time could not stand such sentiments, and thus Paine lost his job. Therefore, coming to America, Paine knew what to expect, and thus Common Sense fits in this historical context. In essence, Common Sense is a factual pamphlet that highlighted the unmerited British rule and occupation of American colonies at the time.


Thomas Paine’s Common Sense is a masterpiece account of the need for America to gain independence. Paine starts by discussing different issues touching on society, religion, and governance. However, the largest part of this writing dwells on the need for Americans to rise against British colonialism and seek independence.

Paine speaks plainly and he scolds Americans for entertaining a repressive rule and wrongful occupation by British masters. He uses different literary elements like triad, logos, pathos, tone, themes, and symbolism in the pamphlet Common Sense. The writing falls in its historical context as it was written at a time when America was living under the oppression of the British colonial powers.

Works Cited

Claeys, G. Thomas Paine: Social and Political Thought, Oxon: Routledge, 2004. Print.

Cooper, M., and William N. Power Persuasion: Moving an Ancient Art into the Media Age, Greenwood: Educational Video Group, 1996. Print.

Dennehy, R., Sandra M., and Pauline A. “Thomas Paine: Creating the New story for a New Nation.” Journal of Critical Postmodern Organization Science 5.4 (2006):183-192. Print.

Hitchens, C. Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man: A Biography, New York: Grove Press, 2006. Print.

Hogeland, W. “Thomas Paine’s Revolutionary Reckoning.” American History 46.2 (2011): 64-69. Print.

Marston, J. King and Congress: The Transfer of Political Legitimacy, 1774-1776, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987. Print.

Nash, D. “The gain from Paine.” History Today 59.6 (2009): 12-18. Print.

Nelson, E. The Royalist Revolution: Monarchy and the American Founding, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2014. Print.

Paine, T. Common Sense. Ed. Edwin Larkin. Toronto: Broadview Press, 2004. Print.

Solinger, J. “Thomas Paine’s Continental Mind.” Early American Literature 45.3 (2010): 593-617. Print.

Stiff, J., and Paul M. Persuasive Communication, New York: Guilford Press, 2003. Print.

Winthrop, J. “Familial Politics: Thomas Paine and the Killing of the King, 1776.” The Journal of American History 60.2 (1973): 294-308. Print.