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II. Kennedy’s Language in His Inaugural Address
III. Stylistic Devices and Emotional Appeal
V. Bibliography John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address
The United States in the 1960s were at relative peace. Dwight D. Eisenhower, the outgoing President, leaves America with general prosperity to his successor John Fitzgerald Kennedy. But times were changing. John Fitzgerald Kennedy won the election by a narrow margin. For that reason he lacked a working majority for his programs in Congress. Kennedy knew that if he wanted to be strong and influential, as the president of United States of America should be in times of the Cold War, he would have to be popular among the people of the United States. Although there were big domestic problems like racism or poverty, John F. Kennedy did not mention them in his Inaugural Address. His attention lay on the beginning conflict with the Soviet Union. He used the common enemy of every American in those times to unite the people in the fear of the Communist. Kennedy creates a mood of togetherness which makes the American people forget their problems for one moment and stand together behind the new president who will lead them out of the crisis. Dean Rusk once said: “. . . John Fitzgerald Kennedy was one of the most articulate leaders of his time.” (5) I will argue in my research paper that John Fitzgerald Kennedy does not have distinct solutions in his address instead he uses his great rhetoric skills to detract from the domestic problems and create a feeling of pride that unites the American people and makes them stand behind the decisions Kennedy is going to make. I will do that by at first examining the special language he uses in his speech and afterwards looking at the stylistic devices he uses to give his words more expression.
II. Kennedy’s Language in His Inaugural Address
Already after the first time reading Kennedy’s speech it gives the reader a feeling of something special which cannot clearly be defined in the first instance. If one goes deeper into the Inaugural Address it becomes clear that it is jammed with rhetorical devices and a form of language that is commonly not used in every day life. The language reminds of a sermon. Kennedy uses terms, verbs and adjectives that are usually heard in churches. I will give some examples for that and try to explain the function.
The beginning of the Inaugural Address represents a common introduction and an address of welcome. Kennedy claims a “celebration of freedom” (6) and introduces God for the first time as “Almighty God” (6). Church services on Sundays are celebrations. John F. Kennedy refers to the past and instead of only giving the date he expresses the period with a phrase well known to the American people. The expression “. . . a century and three-quarters ago.” (6) refers as well to the foundation of the United States of America as to the famous Gettysburg Address by Abraham Lincoln, which is one of the cornerstones of the American democracy. Kennedy strengthens this feeling of relation to the past with “the same revolutionary belief for which our forebears fought . . .” (6). Going ahead John F Kennedy again reminds of the past but introduces this new generation as a self dependent generation. “Let the word go forth . . .” (7) is evocative of Jesus giving a homily, as is “. . . the torch has been passed . . .” (7) which makes thinking of the bible. The term “let go”, so to say, Jesus’ command, draws through the whole speech. It occurs every time Kennedy wants something to happen, especially when he is addressing the Soviets directly. He proposes the aims with which he has run his campaign for presidency under the title New Frontier .
Beyond that frontier are the uncharted areas of science and space, unsolved problems of peace and war, unconquered pockets of ignorance and prejudice, unanswered questions of poverty and surplus. (Kennedy, Legacy 8)
Kennedy does not really have any precise plans to realize his ideas, it’s just general proposals but it gives the audience the feeling as if Kennedy is a mastermind of cooperation and reconciliation. And he is already in progress to end the conflict with the Communist.
Kennedy mentions terms like “human rights” (7) or “liberty” (7). Those words have a very positive effect onto the listeners but they do not really contain any information about what the president is going to do. Not “[witnessing] . . . the slow undoing of those human rights” (7) is powerful to the audience but not as powerful to the opponent as if he would say that he was going to attack the Communist in Vietnam to preserve liberty.
Another remarkable aspect of Kennedy’s language is the thrown in allegory of the tiger. It reminds of a tale from the bible like the “Holy Samaritan” or others. It is a very short story, indeed only the part of a sentence, with a message in it. Another example is not like a story but rather like an adage. For example in the following paragraph the saying of the free society that has to help the poor in order to save the rich (cf. 8). Those little throw-ins make the whole speech appear more like a sermon and create images in the audience’s mind.
An impressing term pictures Kennedy’s description of the United Nations. If John F. Kennedy would not have named the institution he describes one could have imagined that he could have meant God. “. . . to strengthen its shield . . . and to enlarge the area in which its writ may run.” reminds of the Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God by Jonathan Edwards. The unbelievers will experience the wrath of God, as will those states that do not accept the fundamentals of the United Nations.
Shortly after a peace-offering Kennedy introduces a prayer-like sentence. “We dare not tempt them with weakness.” (8) implies a relation to the Lord’s Prayer. The Sentence above corresponds approximately with “and lead us not into temptation”, meant is thereby that the United States will not lead the Soviet into temptation by showing weakness. Kennedy makes clear that he will not back off from the arms race. It is therefore a demonstration of power. It is the same heroic power that makes people proud watching a shoot-‘em-up movie where the army defeats the evil. Together they stand against the evil Communist under the guidance of President Kennedy and fight for the good.
The next biblical reference appears beneath the summary of the requests Kennedy addresses towards the Soviet Union. As mentioned above Kennedy only gives very vague statements and has no real solutions. All he mentions represents the ideal case. Kennedy, for sure, knows that these ideas will never be put into action completely, if at all. But if anything could build a “beachhead of cooperation” (9) Kennedy is willing to create “a new world of law” (9) in collaboration with the Communist. Further Kennedy gives an implication to the creation of the world since it is followed by:
“All 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.” (9)
Kennedy compares the renewal of the relationship between the democrats and the communists to the Genesis, where God created a new world out of nothing. There are indeed similarities between those two situations.
From now to the end of his speech Kennedy again addresses the different people, one the one hand to the citizens of the United States and on the other hand to the people of the world. Beginning with his people Kennedy again tries to reach the honor. He uses verbalisms like “. . . each generation . . . has been summoned to give testimony . . .” (10), “The graves of young Americans . . .” (10) or “Now the trumpet summons again . . . a struggle against the common enemies of man . . .” (10). All this reminds of great heroism. It gives a picture of the American people marching selfless to battle for freedom and liberty. Not looking out for the own losses and doing service to the whole mankind. It seems fitting that Kennedy cites the Holy Bible to give his sermon justification.
John F. Kennedy goes on naming his “call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle” (10) an “historic effort” (10). This underlines his attempt to reach the people’s sense of honor and their will to make history. Claiming that “only a few generations” (10) have been in this situation, Kennedy tries to make clear that it is probably their only chance to intervene in world history. But it is obvious that there have only been a few generations since the founding of the United States and those few generations have all been into some kind of quarrel. Using words like “energy”, “faith”, or “devotion” (10) gives the speech an emotional appeal and attacks the heart of his audience.
“[The] fire [that] can truly light the world.” connects Kennedy’s Speech with the famous A Model of Christian Charity speech by John Winthrop. It is one of the most important speeches in America history and claims that America should be as a “city upon a hill”. Compared to the expression Kennedy uses it could be seen as corresponding. The fire lights the world as the city is seen all over the world. Another hint could be Ronald Reagan’s use of the “city upon a hill” as a “shining city upon a hill”. This should make clear that there is a connection. John F. Kennedy sees the United States as role model for the world as Winthrop did.
Kennedy closes his speech with a plea to the people not to be passive. He accounts the “freedom of man” (10) once again and leads on God. He addresses the belief of the people to convince them that what he intends to do is right. He once again reminds of the historic importance and their roots. For the American people are more or less descendants of Puritan immigrants who are God’s chosen people doing His work here on earth. (cf. 11)
III. Stylistic Devices and Emotional Appeal
John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address is full of stylistic devices. Allusions, alliterations, metaphors and many other figures of speech are included to make his words weightier. I will try to analyze some of them and show what their functions are to make a powerful speech out of several words. Kennedy’s speech is divided in four parts. Every part has a different structure and a different content. His style of speech differs from part to part to support his intentions better.
The first section begins with a “not . . . but” (6) construction and welcomes his audience. This antithesis points up the diplomatic character of his Inaugural Address. Kennedy wants to address all people and not only his voters. He wants them to stand behind him and does not want to offend anybody. In the following paragraph Kennedy speaks of the danger from the atom and he uses the image “mortal hands” (6) to make the perishability of man clear. A few lines further down he refers to the hands once again. Kennedy claims that the “hand of God” (7) gives the rights to man and therefore directly accuses man of playing God. To stress the importance of that action Kennedy uses a zeugma to show the contrast of what mankind is able to. The verb “abolish” (6) conquers the nouns “human poverty” and “human life” (6) and shows that mankind is only allowed to abolish human poverty but not to abolish life. For life and abolish do clash. This can be seen as support to the American people because they do God’s work on earth whereas the Communist do not believe in any God and therefore try to be God. Kennedy claims that “the rights of man come not from the generosity of state . . .” (7) with which he means the Communist. In these few sentences Kennedy gives justification to the United States and at the same time to the American people. To strengthen the pride to be an American Kennedy enumerates American qualities of the new generation to which “the torch has been passed” (7). That nice image combined with “heirs of that first revolution.” (7) reminds of the glory past and that the new generation of Americans stands in this tradition. It is followed by a list of six glorious attributes. Among them “hard and bitter peace”, an oxymoron, that stresses the torments that the American people withstood for the freedom of the world. The first mentioning of the “human rights” (7) a few lines later starts a series of themes which draw together with liberty, and freedom through the whole speech. Liberty and freedom are mentioned in following paragraph. Again a listing of images and metaphors in one sentence that show the strong will of the American President to defend freedom. Alliterations like “pay any price” or “bear any burden” (7) make the statement more harmonic in the ears of the listeners and build up stronger images. It also reminds of the crucifixion of Jesus. He died for the freedom of mankind, like the American people. This represents the end of the first part of Kennedy’s speech.
In the second part of the Inaugural Address, Kennedy addresses different groups: the old allies, the new and free states, third world states, South-American states, the United Nations, and America’s enemies. The structure is always the same. Although Kennedy does never name the addressee directly but describes them, it is obvious whom he refers to. Kennedy starts with the “old allies” (7) meaning Europe. Kennedy “pledge[s] the loyalty of faithful friends.” (7), again an alliteration that emphasizes the special relationship between Europe and America. “[T]he ranks of the free” (7) are the next. Those ranks of the free could be seen as the democratic part of the world that stands against the communist part. It seems plausible the Kennedy refers to the “Southeast Asia Treaty Organization” (SEATO). This organization was an Asiatic defense community including Thailand, the Philippines, Cambodia or Vietnam. John F. Kennedy assures again that America will not replace the “colonial control” (7) through an “iron tyranny” (7). Again Kennedy uses adjectives to create stronger images than he would by just using the nouns. The image of the tiger at the end of the paragraph points up a warning to those new states not to cooperate with the communists. The third addressees in the list are the “peoples in the huts and villages” (7), the third world states. To present their state and to make his people clear that it is necessary for America to help them he speaks of people “struggling to break the bonds of mass misery” (7). All words have more or less a negative appearance and again we have alliteration with the words break and bond. At the end Kennedy puts again a kind of wordplay. A parallelism is also included. “Only those who help the poor can save the rich.” (cf. 8) This is also a relation to the Eisenhower Doctrine from his predecessor which promises military or economic aid to any Middle Eastern country needing help in resisting Communist aggression. It is also a distinct challenge towards the Soviets not to intrude into the area of America’s influence. Ongoing with the “sister republics of south of [America’s] border” (8) Kennedy renews the Monroe Doctrine of 1823. He promises to stand against any invasion in the American hemisphere. Underlining his will by repetitions like “good words” and “good deeds” (8) or “free men and free governments” (8) and again he relates on the “chains of poverty” as he did a few sentences before. This stresses the fact that America is willing to destroy poverty and help anyone who is in need of it. With the renewal of the Monroe Doctrine he gives the audience the feeling that America is strong and intends to stand strong against the Communist threat. The last to whom Kennedy addresses to is the UN. Nearly twenty years after the end of the Second World War the “assembly of sovereign states” (8) has started to decay. In the meantime it has become to a rather weak institution and Kennedy was eager to make it strong again. Stating the world by using the contrast between “instruments of war” and “instruments of peace” (8) it seems possible that this is another oxymoron to clear the threat of the nuclear fallout. Kennedy pledges his support again in a list of three as he does many times in his speech. The ecclesiastical theme occurs another time. “[T]he shield of the new and the weak” as well as the “writ [that] may run” (8). Both could be seen as a connection to the church or even more precisely this could characterize the church. The last, but most important, receivers are “those nations who would make themselves [their] adversary” (8) He changes from “pledge” to “request” and offers to “anew the quest for peace” (8). Kennedy speaks of “the dark powers of destruction” (8) to make clear how dangerous present course is. A relation to the dark colors after an explosion of an atomic bomb, destroyed houses, dead bodies, and black dust everywhere. Kennedy does not attack or blame the Soviets directly, he speaks of “planned or accidental self-destruction” (8) and implies the possibility that the Communist do not intend to use their weapons which could be seen as a peace-offering.
This marks the end of the second paragraph and opens the third which reminds of a sermon by God who briefs his peoples. Through the double use of “beyond doubt” (8) Kennedy demonstrates power. Although this term does not seem to fit together with the word weapon, it creates in combination with “sufficient” and “certain” (8) an image of invincibility and aloofness. A feeling every American is proud of. It is the pride to be a part of an invincible world power defending freedom. John F. Kennedy goes on trying to find a way together with the opponent to solve the problem he lists now. The problems of those times Kennedy, again, gives in a list of three. As a clever move Kennedy includes the Soviet Union in his numeration. He equates the United States and the Soviet Union. Until that point in his speech he has set the United States above the Communist. In an earlier speech Kennedy named the Communist system “single-minded” (Kennedy, Legacy 8) which is another prove that he puts America above the Soviet Union. Kennedy names the problems that evolved through the Cold War and speaks of “both” (8/9). “[M]ankind’s final war” (9) creates another biblical image, the apocalypse. He argues that this “present course” (8) will lead into the mankind’s end. John F. Kennedy introduces his list of solutions through another rotation of words. The chiasm occurs as “Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate.” (9) The sequence of four cooperation proposals begins every time with “Let both” (9). Although Kennedy speaks of both, the list reminds of the first book of Moses, Genesis. There God created the world. Kennedy uses the same structure as to let everything happen what he proposes. In this list of the four “let both” repetitions Kennedy alludes the problems which divide the different two groups. To make his facts catchier Kennedy employs several antitheses, for example “unite” and “divide” (9), or “wonders” and “terrors” (9). It is a reminder of the earlier chiasm, Kennedy changes the “absolute power to destroy” into “the absolute control” (9). It is merely a turning of the words but it changes the meaning drastically. The strong adjective “absolute” (9) gives the audience a feeling of definitiveness and security. Kennedy ends his list with a reference to God, so to say a justification from above and a connection to the “forebears” (6) which were God’s chosen people. Concluding his list by the aims he tries to reach through his proposed actions packed in clear images. He describes the relation between the United States and the Soviet Union as a “jungle of suspicion” (9) and demands, if there would ever be a common denominator, to create “a new world of law” (9). Kennedy lets this images follow a list of three principles of this new world. Those three basics are justice, security and peace. All things America stands for. Kennedy lets the audience join this effort through pandering to their pride. That pride, which gets strengthened through another reference to the holy bible. God created the world in seven days; Kennedy says that it might probably not happen “in [their] lifetime on this planet.” (9) Through the triple use of “nor”, which is an anaphor, and the foregoing negation Kennedy gives not very much hope that anything might happen. But by using an appeal at the end of the paragraph Kennedy gives the people a ray of hope. This means that although it might seem hopeless, the American people struggle for the quest of freedom and try anyway. He unites them in the same mood and gives them a feeling of strength because they are united in one big oneness.
The last paragraph directs in main parts again to the American people and their duties for their country. Kennedy equalizes all people naming them “my fellow citizens” (10) which stands in contrast to the beginning of the Inaugural Address. The metaphor “In your hands” (10) makes the people clear that they have the power of “success or failure” (10), another antithesis to make the audience feel powerful. The following image Kennedy now describes is the most illustrative in the whole speech. The image of “the trumpet [that] summons” (10) which makes think of call to fight is immediately disproved by a repeated “not . . . though” (10) construction. The American people will defeat “the common enemies of man” (10) and are characterized through a biblical citation. To unite everyone behind him, Kennedy asks a question, or rather two, to introduce his main ambition which is the struggle to win his citizen over. The questions are only the first step that prepare for the most important part. In the following lines Kennedy evolves a metaphor that is definitely connected with John Winthrop’s A Model of Christian Charity: “the glow from that fire can truly light the world.” (10) That John F. Kennedy was guided by the ‘city upon a hill’ principle we already know from Kennedy’s Speech to the Massachusetts State Legislature short before his Inaugural Address where he explains that “[he] has been guided by the standard John Winthrop set . . . 331 years ago, as they, too, faced the task of building a government on a new and perilous frontier.” (Kennedy, Turn the tide 4) Kennedy aims at that metaphor by the use of strong emotional nouns as “[t]he energy, the faith, the devotion” (10). Kennedy’s conclusion follows thereafter in two parallel structures with different meanings. Kennedy starts to address his people. By the use of the chiasm Kennedy makes clear that the people are self-responsible for what will happen. In the next sentence Kennedy makes also clear that America is not the only one to defend freedom, it is the world that has to care for.
John F. Kennedy’s end is again another act of patriotism. Kennedy differs between “citizens of America or citizens of the world” (10). Kennedy lifts the American people above the rest of the world. For “citizens of America” are automatically “citizens of the world” (10). To the end Kennedy underlines the selflessness of America pretending that they gain nothing more than just “a good conscience” (10) and the privilege to write history which shows generosity of this nation. Kennedy concludes to stress the role of God in the actions of America which is another reference to America’s history. Asking for help but relying on own decisions (cf. 10) shows that Kennedy entitles America’s right above merely to carry out advices of God.
John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the youngest person ever elected for president of the United States of America, was well aware of the problems he was going to face during his Administration. He mentioned in his speech The Presidency the
. . . problems that will inevitably explode to the surface during the next 4 years of the next administrations-- the growing missile gap, the rise of Communist China, the despair of the underdeveloped nations, the explosive situations in Berlin and in the Formosa Straits, the deterioration of NATO, the lack of an arms control agreement, and all the domestic problems of our farms, cities, and schools. (Kennedy, Presidency)
He referred in large parts to these problems but leaves the domestic affairs out. For Kennedy knew that with the mentioning of those complicated topic he would not have had a broad acceptance among the citizens. This agreement from the population he strongly needed to stand powerful and united against the Communist threat. Kennedy raised the national pride through references to the glory past and stands for a “new world of law” (9) that should be a better world with justice and peace. For that reason he speaks of, to that times, utopian objectives without having concrete plans to execute them. That Kennedy stood behind his statements became clear when in 1962 he avoided a nuclear war in the Cuba Crisis.
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