A rhetorical Analysis of Wilson’s Declaration of War Speech



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A Rhetorical Analysis of Wilson’s Declaration of War Speech
The following exercises will help you to analyze how Wilson employed rhetorical devices in his speech. Being able to recognize how authors and speakers use rhetorical devices in their writing will help prepare you for taking AP English in your junior year should you desire to do so.
Exercise 1 (Diction)

Writers choose their words carefully to convey their tone. The rhetorical term for deliberate word choice is DICTION. Wilson deliberately chooses certain words in paragraph 3 to convey his tone and to characterize the actions of the German government. Complete the following chart using paragraph 3.




List three to four words Wilson chooses to describe either Germany’s submarine attacks or Germany’s efforts to control their submarine officers.


What is Wilson’s tone or attitude towards the German government based upon the words you selected?

(Provide at least two adjectives)







Now consider how paragraph 6 contrasts with paragraph 3.




List two words Wilson chooses to describe America’s response.

How do these words paint America in a different light than Germany?








Exercise 2 (Appeal to Emotion)

Writers and speakers sometimes appeal to their audience’s emotions in order to convey their point. The rhetorical term for this is called PATHOS. Such an appeal is called a pathetic appeal—not to be confused with how you usually use the word. In paragraph 4 Wilson makes a pathetic appeal.




What example of the destructiveness of German submarine warfare does Wilson deliberately choose because it will have a strong appeal to our emotions?

What emotions does this example stir in the audience? Why?







Exercise 3 (Hyperbole)

Writers and speakers sometimes make exaggerated claims to draw emphasis to their points. The rhetorical term for this is HYPERBOLE. They have to be careful, however, that their exaggeration is not so farfetched that the audience will dismiss it as silly or ludicrous. Wilson makes use of an effective hyperbole in paragraph 5 and 10.




What exaggerated claim does Wilson make about Germany’s submarine warfare in paragraph 5? This enables him in paragraph 10 to make what exaggerated claim about the reasons America fights?


Though HYPERBOLE, explain why Wilson’s claim is not too farfetched.

(answer on the back)








Exercise 4 (Audience)

Writers and speakers may have more than one intended audience. Clearly the direct audience of Wilson’s speech is congress, since he addresses them when he opens his speech. Equal clear is the fact that Wilson is addressing the American people, since any address before congress is also an address to the people who elected congress.


However, there are two other indirect audiences addressed in Wilson’s speech. Reread paragraphs 13 and 14.


Who does Wilson address his speech to in paragraph 13?

How do you know?



Who does Wilson address his speech to in paragraph 14? How do you know?








Exercise 5 (Diction Again)

One of the themes of the novel is that leaders often embroil their nations in war without considering the true impact on the common men and women who bear the brunt of the destructiveness of war. Analyze Wilson’s DICTION in the paragraph 15.




Which words does Wilson deliberately choose to describe the coming conflict?

Based upon these words, how would you describe Wilson’s attitude towards war and how he feels about leading his nation to war?










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