Rhetorical Analysis of JFK’s Inaugural Address

September 26, 2010

In the 11th grade I was given an assignment to write a rhetorical analysis of JFK’s Inaugural Address.

Rhetorical Analysis of JFK’s Inaugural Address

In JFK’s Inaugural Address he uses allusion, metaphors, parallelism, zeugma, and antimetabole to build up pre-existing Americans’ pride, create a common enemy, and call the nation to support their country. He approaches these goals subtly though, and uses a string of rhetoric to increase the odds of a positive public reaction.

Firstly, Kennedy awakens the public’s pre-existing sense of pride. Immediately after being sworn in Kennedy uses allusion, saying, “For I have sworn before you and Almighty God the same solemn oath our forebears prescribed nearly a century and three-quarters ago,” (Kennedy 52). Kennedy alludes to our nation’s independence in order to build up a sense of good character for himself. He is doing this by bringing up the moment in the audience’s mind. America’s Independence is their proudest moment, so by encouraging them to bask in the pride, he is getting some of it by association. Shortly after, Kennedy speaks of revolutions for rights and uses a metaphor, saying, “Let the word go forward from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans…” (Kennedy 52). The subject of Olympic torch passing is compared to duties being passed. This is fitting because Olympic torch passing and duties being passed share these characteristics: the torch being passed is a passing of responsibility and the duties being passed comes with a responsibility. This basically is a flattery of the audience as he suggests they have the same responsibilities as the forefathers.

Secondly, Kennedy creates a common enemy to unite the people’s pride. While discussing newly freed countries he uses a metaphor, saying, “…remember that, in the past, those who foolishly sought power by riding the back of the tiger ended up inside,” (Kennedy 52). The subject of tiger riding is compared to the use of nuclear weapons to gain power. This is fitting because tiger riding and using nuclear weapons to gain power share these characteristics: tiger riding is intimidating to others but poses a high risk for the rider (eg., being thrown off and eaten) and using nuclear weapons to gain power is intimidating to others but poses a high risk for the country (eg., invasion, war, and/or rebellion). This metaphor makes any country that would try this look foolish and reckless. It also creates an undercurrent of disdain towards these countries in the audience. Later, while discussing enemy nations, Kennedy uses parallelism, saying, “Let both sides explore what problems unite us…Let both sides, for the first time, formulate serious and precise proposals for the inspection and control of arms…Let both sides seek to invoke the wonders of science…Let both sides unite…” (Kennedy 53). The parallelism functions to keep the single idea of working together flowing. It also acts as an open offer to enemy countries. By doing this, the idea is created in the audience that any country that refuses the offer is extremely despicable.

Finally, Kennedy uses the audience’s pride and sense of unity to make a plea for national support. After discussing previous American’s loyalty to their country, Kennedy uses zeugma, saying, “Now the trumpet summons us again – not as a call to bear arms, though arms we need – not as a call to battle, though embattled we are – but a call to bear the burden…” (Kennedy 54). The zeugma functions to make his requests seem less demanding. Although he clearly mentions three issues, by using zeugma, only one gets plainly stated. Also, by stating that they’re being summoned to bear the same burden as earlier Americans, the audience is inspired. Lastly, after building the audience up the entire speech and inspiring them, Kennedy uses antimetabole, saying, “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country,” (Kennedy 54). The antimetabole functions to form a remarkably unpretentious hortative sentence. His call to action is perfectly placed, and it moves the audience. It also sounds convincing due to the syntax.

In conclusion, in his Inaugural Address, John F. Kennedy uses already existing pride in individual Americans, unites them together, and encourages them to help their country by means of allusion, metaphors, parallelism, zeugma, and antimetabole.

Works Cited

Shea, Renée Hausmann., Lawrence Scanlon, and Robin Dissin. Aufses. The Language of Composition: Reading, Writing and Rhetoric. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2008. Print.

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