Freedom of Man: An Analysis of J.F.K.'s Inaugural Address

Freedom of Man: An Analysis of J.F.K.'s Inaugural Address

A Story by kataylor11
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A Rhetorical Analysis of John F. Kennedy's Inaugural Address

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"The cost of freedom is always high, but Americans have always paid it. And one path we shall never choose, and that is the path of surrender, or submission." The previous quote was from former US President John F. Kennedy. The quote is only one example of Kennedy speaking about freedom, one thing people remember him for doing. According to Bartleby.com, the 35th Presidential Inauguration on January 20, 1961 almost did not happen because of heavy snowfall received the night before had some people thinking of cancelling the inauguration, but they were overruled (par. 1). Thankfully the inauguration was not canceled or people all over the world would have missed something possible of changing the entire world. In his "Inaugural Address", John F. Kennedy appeals to both the American public and the citizens of the world to come together for the freedom of man against tyranny, poverty, disease, and war using pathos and language schemes.

One way Kennedy appeals to both the American public and the citizens of the world using pathos is by using words like “us”, “our”, and “we” throughout the speech. This gives the feeling as if the citizens, of America and of the world, each have something they can do to help. According to USNews.com, in her book "American Originals", Stacey Bredhoff explains how "The inaugural ceremony is a defining moment in a President’s career" and how "no one knew this better than John F. Kennedy as he prepared for his own inauguration on January 20, 1961" (par. 1). She asserts that Kennedy did not want a long speech, but wanted his address to only include the important details without taking into account the different parties. She also declares the speech was Kennedy's own thoughts, painstakingly "worded, reworded, and reduced", but included suggestions from colleagues (par. 1). Kennedy knew the importance of word and sentence choice because people from around the world would be looking back on his inaugural address to see what he wanted to accomplish in his presidency. When he says, “In your hands, my fellow citizens, more than mine, will rest the final success or failure of our course”, Kennedy is stressing how important it is that they do something to help, because it is their hands that hold the final say, not his (par. 22). No matter how much power one president has, he cannot do anything without the support of the citizens. The world will never be free from tyrants as long as no one is willing to stand up to them. If everyone in the world worked together, there could finally be freedom from all the current and future tyrants of the world.

Kennedy makes sure to explain how man will not be free from tyranny, poverty, disease, and war anytime soon, but that we should at least start now. He does this in four sentences, "All of this will not be finished in the first one hundred days. Nor will it be finished in the first one thousand days; nor in the life of this Administration; nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin" (par. 21). While Kennedy was mainly talking to his audience in 1961, the ideas he points out are still effective today because the freedom of all humankind was not achieved during his lifetime and may still not be achieved in our lifetime. When listening to Kennedy speak, his audience can understand how this will be long process, but still feel hopeful that one day the world will be free from tyranny, poverty, disease, and war. I think that Kennedy wanted his audience to feel hopeful so that they would be willing to support him and help in any way that they could.

Now that I have described how Kennedy uses pathos in his “Inaugural Address” to appeal to both the American public and the citizens of the world to come together for the freedom of man against tyranny, poverty, disease, and war, I will emphasize the language schemes he uses.

One way Kennedy appeals to both the American public and the citizens of the world is by using a language scheme called anaphora. For example, when Kennedy is making his pledges to different groups of nations in the world, he uses the words “To those” to explain who the pledge is being given to and the words “we pledge” to begin the pledge (par. 7-12). Another example of an anaphora that Kennedy uses in his address, is when he is explaining how both sides, America and those that make themselves America’s adversaries, need to work together by repeatedly using the words “Let both sides” (par. 16-20). These anaphoras are effective because they repeat the same words over and over again in order to make the sentences memorable and emphasize why those words are especially important to remember.

Another way Kennedy appeals to both the American public and the citizens of the world using a language scheme called reverse sentence structure. Kennedy uses reverse sentence structures twice in his sentences “And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country” and “My fellow citizens of the world, ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man” (par. 26-7). He is emphasizing how important it is for the citizens to ask what they can do to help instead of how they will be helped.  Reverse sentence structures are really effective because they are easy to remember. Most Americans at least remember Kennedy's sentence “And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country” even if they do not know that it was from his "Inaugural Address" (par. 26).

Even though it has been above 50 years since Kennedy gave his "Inaugural Address", his words are still making a lasting impression on anyone who reads the transcript or watches a video of him giving the speech. While many things have changed in the last 50 years, the world still needs to work together, as a whole, for the freedom of man against tyranny, poverty, disease, and war. Since Kennedy's life was taken so soon in his presidency, we do not know what he could have accomplished if he was only given more time. We can only imagine true freedom. It is not something that will be achieved in a short time, but as Kennedy said in his speech "... let us begin" (par. 21).

Works Cited

Bredhoff, Stacey. American Originals. Seattle: The University of Washington Press, 2001. 108"109. "President John F. Kennedy's Inaugural Address (1961)". USNews.com. Web. 8 Oct. 2013.

Figure 1 John F. Kennedy. Picture. NPR. NPR, 20 Jan. 2011. Web. 3 Dec. 2013.

Figure 2 Kennedy’s writing. Picture. WonderCafe.ca. WonderCafe, 19 Feb. 2011.Web. 3 Dec.2013.

"John F. Kennedy Inaugural Address". Bartleby: Inaugural Addresses of the Presidents. Bartleby, 2013. Web. 8 Oct. 2013.

Kennedy, John F. "Inaugural Address" American Rhetoric: Top 100 Speeches. American Rhetoric, 2008. Web. 20 Sep. 2013.

© 2013 kataylor11


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Added on December 4, 2013
Last Updated on December 4, 2013