Rhetorical Analysis



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Rhetorical Analysis

John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address

The Purpose of Analysis

Consider what an analysis does. A mere dissection or a disassembly separates something into its component parts, but an analysis explains how it works. This applies as much to a written text as it does to a biological specimen or a machine.

Your essay should not only describe what the speaker is saying, but you should explain how the diction and syntax serve the speaker’s purpose, enrich the text, and affect the audience.

Consider the rhetorical triangle as it applies to your composition: the relationship you, the speaker, have with your subject and your audience.

Craft your essay so that it deserves to be read and so that it will engage your reader.

Kennedy’s Address

Archaic diction: asunder, foe, writ, forebears, underscores the formality

The figures of speech make traditional yet powerful connections: tyranny and iron, power and tiger, poverty and chains. They are a strong source of emotional persuasion.



Personification elevates the speech to a grand style: “our sister republics” . . . “beachhead of cooperation” pushing back the “jungle of suspicion” is particularly rich.

The speech’s syntax adds to the development of the speech’s tone.



Anaphora; “not as a call to bear arms, though arms we need; not as a call to battle, though embattled we are.”

Parallelism and antithesis: “If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.” He juxtaposes the many and the few, the poor with the rich as he tries to unite the country.

Sentence types: many are short declarative sentences; a few are compound; and more than twenty are complex.

Beginning a sentence with a subordinate clause allows steam to build and energizes the sentence’s main idea.

The speech is a call to action, but Kennedy uses hortatory forms (“let us”) more than imperatives (“ask” and “ask not”); his intention is to persuade rather than coerce.

The rhetorical questions in paragraph 24 are reminders that the young president was building consensus rather than dictating.

Many sentences begin with coordinating conjunctions (so, for, but) which help us move smoothly from one sentence into the next and represent continuity.

Tone

One way to come up with an idea for the essay is to identify the tone, the feeling behind the words. Tone and attitude are created by diction and syntax.

His attitude is one of respect for the grand occasion, its history, and the legacy it is carrying forward. The tone of the speech is a combination of respectful eloquence and youthful idealism.

Tropes and Schemes

Recognizing the tropes and schemes in a text as rich as this is good; identifying their purpose and effect is excellent.



For example, we all know that Kennedy enjoins his listeners to “ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country. Identifying that he employs antimetabole is fine, but you will be better off explaining what the statement does in the speech and how it is likely to affect the audience.

Writing an excellent essay takes you a step further, from stating that to explain how.


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