Kennedy Speech: Rhetorical Devices

All of the famous pieces of writing in US history contain rhetorical devices. John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address was one of these famous speeches, where Kennedy used rhetorical devices to achieve his purpose. Kennedy used the rhetorical devices of anaphora and antithesis in order to make his speech more influential and persuading to the people of America.

The Greek word “anaphora” literally means “to bring forth again.” It is a repetition at the beginning of successive phrases. Kennedy showed instances of anaphora multiple times in his Inaugural Address. This is seen when he says “To those old allies… To those new states… To those people…” Kennedy used this anaphora and parallelism concept in order to make his speech more appealing. Anaphora made Kennedy’s speech more appealing to an audience because repetition such as the kind he used has been seen as appealing to an audience. Aphorism tends to add flow and rhythm to a speech, as it also gets people excited listening. The same was seen in Martin Luther King’s speech when he kept repeating “I have a dream…” The ears of the audience make a connection because of repeated sounds in an audience, making the speech more interesting and exciting. Anaphora is also a natural companion; therefore it is usually not spotted until the third item in the series.

Kennedy’s second big rhetorical device that he used in his speech was the usage of antithesis. Antithesis, the balanced pairing of opposites, was seen in many different instances during the speech. “Ask not what your country can do for you, as, what you can do for your country.” “Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate.” “We observe today not a victory of party but a celebration of freedom…” “Not as a call to bear arms… not as a call to battle…., but a call to bear the burden…” He continually stated opposition points, yet ended the sentence with what should be done instead. Some of his instances of antithesis can also be compared to anaphora, since he has similar structure for the first two series, but then finishes with a different proposition, as seen with the last two quotes I stated. Kennedy’s usage of antithesis in his speech is important and seen to be effective, as it fired up the audience and really brought a true sense of excitement, which is a major reason for inaugural speeches.

Kennedy used many rhetorical devices in his speech, but anaphora and antithesis were the two most important devices used. His usage of devices was seen as very successful, as people remember these famous quotes still today. Kennedy’s Inaugural Speech is still seen today as a great example of the usage and success of rhetorical devices.


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