Friday, September 26, 2008

Rhetorical Analysis of JFK's 1961 Inaugural Speech

In early 1961, the United States of America was in the middle of dealing with racial tensions and inequalities on the home-front, as well as the fight against Communism and the Cold War internationally. The American people were concerned with the state of their country and the seemingly never-ending possibilities of yet another devastating war. However, they were optimistic about the young president they had elected a few months earlier to lead their country. John Fitzgerald Kennedy was sworn into office on January 20, 1961 at the age of 43. His inaugural address to the American citizens on that day gave the people a sense of comfort and confidence in their young leader that was desperately needed at the time.

John F. Kennedy begins his inaugural speech by using antithesis to emphasize the importance of his victory in the presidential race. Kennedy describes his victory as “symbolizing an end, as well as a beginning -- signifying renewal, as well as change.” He then appeals to the pathos of his audience by using several effective choices of diction. By describing the responsibilities passed on to the new generation of Americans, Kennedy invokes nationalistic feelings in the listening citizens. He points to the resiliency of the United States and the need for the people to continue to support the ideals of freedom that have made the country so successful. The people were challenged to “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and the success of liberty.” Kennedy successfully appeals to the pathos of the audience in order to establish his views to be elaborated in the rest of his speech.

In the next portion of his address, John F. Kennedy discusses his international views. He strategically uses anaphora to break his ideas into segments. After saying that the United States under his presidency will pledge to achieve several different things, he explains what the pledges are in segments beginning with “to.” It effectively separates his ideas and lets his audience know he is beginning to speak of a different pledge than the one before. Kennedy pledges that the United States will unify with other countries even if their viewpoints are much different than those of our great country. In Kennedy’s mind, we must retain our old allies because “divided, there is little we can do.” He also pledges to help those countries that are less fortunate than the United States not for power or political reasons, but because it is morally right. He then finishes off his anaphoric pledges by promising relief to bordering countries, renewing the United States’ support of the United Nations, and by requesting peaceful relations with other countries in the world. Kennedy’s dedicated and confident tone throughout this portion of the address gives the audience a reassuring sense of belief in their new leader.

The next section of John F. Kennedy’s inaugural speech has some similarities to the preceding portion. Once again, Kennedy uses anaphora to emphasize his points. However, rather than focusing on his international views regarding helping other countries in need, Kennedy focuses on the importance of preventing another violent war. He begins this portion of the speech by cleverly inserting a trope to explain what the United States’ policy should be about negotiation with other countries: “Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate.” He then proceeds to address the prevention of war by beginning all of his ideas and viewpoints with the phrase “let both sides.” During this section, Kennedy uses logos effectively to explain why it is logical to avoid war. Kennedy urges “both sides” to help each other through problems rather than letting the problems divide the countries, to focus on the positive effects that science can have on society rather than its harmful effects, and to unite in order to create a world “where the strong are just, and the weak secure, and the peace preserved.” These pleas for a peaceful world were exactly what the American people needed to hear at a time when war was the last thing anyone wanted for the United States.



Mike Lebowitz said...

I did a JFK speech as well for my analysis. And in both, due to the Cold War, he is extremely intent on bringing liberty to the world around us much more than protecting the liberties we already have. I think it is a very admirable trait and he always tried to get the reader/listener to go beyond "their world" in order to see how we as individuals can make a difference to those who need help.

Chris Wideman said...

I really liked the way you picked out the rhetoric terms in the speech. You really made your analysis interesting by giving a background of the situation and then talking about the speech itself. I think you have a good start on your paper.

Betsy Woods said...

Good start. You are incorporating the quotes well.

applesooo said...

Your paper is great, just adding, you should not say "uses" when it comes to pathos, ethos, or logos, always "appeals". Also, mention zeugma in his alternating of "Let" and "to"