I’ve always been a big fan of John F. Kennedy. In my personal opinion, he was one of the greatest orators for presidents the U.S. has ever seen, maybe behind only Lincoln. My favorite speech of his happens to be one of his most common, his Inaugral Adress of 1961. However, being in AP Lang, my brain is now trained to see some of the rhetoric J.F.K. used to make his speech so memorable.
The formality of the piece is present within the very first introductory paragraph. All that this particular paragraph contains are the names of former vice presidents and presidents of the U.S.A., the chief justice, the reverend clergy, and lastly, “fellow citizens”. J.F.K. is giving this address to past and present, important and unimportant. He also uses juxtaposition – “[S]ymboling an end as well as a beginning…” to emphasize the change in tides from one president to the next. He is perhaps implying here that despite being the youngest president ever (and also the first Roman Catholic president ever), he is more than prepared to handle the job. J.F.K. again emphasizes the importance of the past by using some archaic words within his sentences: “For I have sworn before you and Almighty God the same solemn oath our forebears prescribed nearly a century and three-quarters ago.” Specifically, he uses “forebears”, “foe”, “prescribed” and “writ” within his inaugural address to pay homage to Roman scholars, Greek scholars, and even those who were present at the First Continental Congress. When J.F.K chooses the words, “century and three-quarters ago”, he is likely alluding to the signing of the Declaration of Independence, or perhaps the drafting the Constitution. By doing so, J.F.K is recognizing his duty as president of the United States – to maintain the principles stated within those aforementioned documents. Within the first two paragraphs, J.F.K also refers to an “Almighty God”, an obvious reference to his Roman Catholic background. Since he is a devout believer and follower of God, it makes sense for J.F.K. to place some hope for the mention within Him – which is very appealing for logos.
John F. Kennedy also uses metonymy a couple times to emphasize the power of the people of the nation – particularly through use of the word “hands”: “For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty…” and, “In your hands, my fellow citizens, more than mine, will rest the final success or failure of our course.” J.F.K uses metonymy to stress the responsibility that all citizens of the U.S – and the world, for that matter – have. The phrase “…friend and foe alike…” is an antithesis which J.F.K utilizes to say that his message is not just for those countries which are friendly with the U.S; his message is for everyone, no matter what they happen to think of him. This message reflects well on J.F.K’s youthful, optimistic personality. In terms of syntax, J.F.K.’s small, concise paragraphs each deal with separate issues or points J.F.K wishes to elaborate upon; this manner of speaking is very similar to what we would call bullet points nowadays.
(Don’t worry, these are the last set of points I wish to make) Finally, J.F.K uses, throughout his speech, many subordinate clauses to emphasize some hidden, or understated, points. One of the most apparent subordinate clauses is: “I not shrink from the responsibility [of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger] – I welcome it.” This clause fulfills the role of articulate J.F.K.’s youthful eagerness but also his talent and capability of being president. Near the end of the inaugural address, after J.F.K has stated his messages of hope and unity, he switches to using rhetorical questions and imperative sentences to inspire his audience to join in. He asks his audience (which is the whole world), “Will you join in that historic effort?” Additionally, he tells them: “[A]sk not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country. 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.” This antimetabole is encouraging citizens to serve their country and have pride for their respective flags – at least in the surface. If one looks deeper, he or she can tell that what J.F.K is really hinting at here is that normal, everyday people are just as influential on the course of the world and humanity itself as whole countries are. An important thing to note is that J.F.K only includes the word “I” once in this inaugural address, opting for “we” the majority of the time. This diction yet again serves to drive home the point that J.F.K is making about worldly unity.