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Kennedy's Inaugural Address Analysis

Gareth Kit
Mr. Daniel Boyce
DP 1 English HL
Kennedy’s Inaugural Address Analysis
On John F. Kennedy was elected president of the United States in 1960 it was a close
vote as the U.S. was in a difficult time at this moment. During that time, there was the cold war
and the situation of USSR where communism seemed to grow stronger everyday. On 20th of
January 1961, John F. Kennedy presented his inaugural address. This inaugural address is
debatably one of the best inaugural addresses in all of the United States’ history. Many things
made this inaugural address great. The use of rhetorical devices, the literary devices, references,
the level of language and just style of the speech made this speech such a great speech.
The inaugural address was one of the shortest inaugural addresses in all of the United
States’ history. Despite it being roughly a thousand words, there was so much packed in this
speech that it is clear that Kennedy spent a lot of time and effort on this speech. It can also be
seen clearly that the speech is written in Kennedy’s style of writing. The way the speech flowed,
the way words were used, the abundant use of literary devices and much more all showed
Kennedy’s style of writing. Often, Kennedy would not follow his advisor’s advice directly and
usually rewrote their advised text in his own way. There are many reasons for him to do just that
but here the focus would be on three things. The flow of the speech, meeting the target audience,
and meeting the purpose of the speech.
The reason why Kennedy used so many literary devices was because of the flow of the
speech. He wanted it to flow smoothly, points leading to another point, and to another. Not one
where there was a build up, only for it to just lead nowhere and accomplishes nothing. Some of
the literary devices he used was repetition, at the start of three paragraphs in a row, he wrote “To
those” referring to the different nations of the world, the new states of the country and the people
of the world. By repeating this, he makes it memorable and most importantly, it flows well.
Again, he uses repetition later on in the speech saying “Let both sides” emphasizing on the point
that he seeks peace while keeping the flow of the speech. Many times Kennedy also rewrote
what his advisors gave him so it could fit into the flow of his speech. In fact, it was the three
paragraphs where he starts with “To those” were the ones he rewrote to make the speech flow
better. One of the paragraphs an advisor gave was
“United for common purposes there is little we cannot do to advance peace and well-being;
disunited, there is little we can do… we cannot deal with the Communist challenge divided and
in disarray.”
which Kennedy changed to
“To those old allies whose cultural and spiritual origins we share, we pledge the loyalty of
faithful friends. United there is little we cannot do in a host of cooperative ventures. Divided
there is little we can do--for we dare not meet a powerful challenge at odds and split asunder.”.
This here captures the essence of what the advisors wanted Kennedy to say but rewritten in a
way that is pleasing to the ears thus keeping the attention of his audience.
If we look carefully at the inaugural address, it can be clearly seen that not many difficult
words were used, the register used was one that was most suitable for the common people,
modified formal. He used this register because it suited his purpose for this inaugural address.
The purpose of this inaugural address was him to solidify his right and position of the president
of the United States and to increase the morale of his people in those harsh times. This was
essential because Kennedy didn’t win his presidency by a landslide in fact, it was a very close
election. With such a divided nation, Kennedy had to reunite it or else it may become a severe
problem in the future especially with so many problems and fears arising along with the
development of science and a new structure of society. In order to achieve his purpose, Kennedy
had to make his speech in a way that targets his target audience (all of America) and get as much
support has he can with this one speech.
He did this firstly by using the register that targets the largest amount of people in
America, common register, or modified formal. Secondly, the topics he talks about in his speech
are sometimes vague where it is not very widely accepted, but is very specific in areas of the
topic that are widely accepted in America. An example of this is at the beginning of the speech
where he says “For I have sworn before you and Almighty God the same solemn oath our
forbears prescribed nearly a century and three-quarters ago.”. Here he is clear but having sworn
an oath to his people and God while also referring to the oath that his ancestors also made,
because during that time, firstly, most of America was religious and secondly, most of America
took pride at being a country of freedom, which their ancestors started. However, it can be
noticed that Kennedy left the details of the oath vague and unspecified, saying its “the same
solemn oath our forbears prescribed”. This is because when you get specific what exactly he
swore, people may disagree with him and he would lose support. He also makes things vague but
widely acceptable when rewriting what his advisors gave him. A good example of this is when
an advisor wrote:
“The work of this new Administration will not be over in a hundred days, or in five hundred
days, or in a thousand days. Its works will continue without surcease for all of the next four
Kennedy changed that into
“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”
Here Kennedy fits his register by not using words like “surcease” and simplifying the language.
He makes it vague by not specifying what will not be finished in a long time, simply referring to
peace from the paragraph before, and it is widely accepted and understood that peace will not
come in a long, long time but through what he said, the people are now encouraged to start.
In conclusion, John F. Kennedy, made many changes to suit his needs where most of the
changes worked well with whatever else he came up with. Whether it be a build up or to boost
the people’s morale or to get a point straight home, most of his changes were well made.
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