'You are not alone': The discursive construction of the 'suffering victim' identity on the Oprah Winfrey Show

Christine Marshall, Kiran Pienaar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


The Oprah Winfrey Show is widely recognised as the leading television talk show worldwide (Garson, 2004) and its appeal lies in its exploration of issues which have universal currency, such as relationship problems, gender-based violence and stories of survival. The Oprah Winfrey Show exploits the television talk show as a forum for public therapy where ordinary people and celebrities alike divulge their problems, successes and the intimate details of their private lives (Marshall, n.d.). In an attempt to understand how Winfrey has blurred the boundaries between public and private to create a modern-day public confessional, this paper explores a recurring theme on the show, the theme of suffering as it is exemplified in discourses used by guests, by Winfrey herself and by viewers. The study uses the APPRAISAL system (Martin & Rose, 2003) to analyse how the attitudinal language of the talk show constructs an identifiable victim whose narrative centres on overcoming suffering. The analysis reveals that expressions of Affect, Judgement and Appreciation are powerful mechanisms for legitimising the identity of the suffering victim. This paper argues that The Oprah Winfrey Show capitalises on the universality of suffering to promote therapeutic self-help for everyone, both 'suffering victims' (the guests on the talk show) and 'potential victims' (the viewers). 'If there's a thread running through each show we do, it is the message that 'you are not alone'. Entertainment is the last thing I am looking for ... My goal is to try to uplift, encourage and enlighten you in some way. I'm looking for the moment that makes you say, 'Ah ha, I didn't know that. "- Oprah Winfrey

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)525-546
Number of pages22
JournalSouthern African Linguistics and Applied Language Studies
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2008
Externally publishedYes

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