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Woody Allen’s text “My Speech to the Graduates” is a parody or burlesque of a standard graduation speech. Allen’s text is not a conventional essay, with a main argument and supporting sub-arguments; rather, it is a piece of good-humored mockery of a typical commencement address. Allen supports the main purpose of the essay in a number of ways, including the following:
- He opens the piece with four sentences that allude to well-known clichés of graduation speeches. The first sentence is entirely a cliché. The second parodies the cliché about one path leading somewhere, although it is unlikely that any real graduation speaker would ever end this sentence as Allen does. The third sentence mocks the cliché about the second path, but again no graduation speaker in his right mind would phrase this sentence as Allen does. Finally, in the fourth sentence, Allen returns to a total cliché. What we have here, then, is a cliché sandwich: a cliché in sentence one, two totally unlikely ideas in sentences two and three, and finally another cliché in sentence four.
- In the second paragraph of the piece, Allen mocks the cliché of a graduation speaker wanting to make his precise motives exactly clear, although no real graduation speaker would ever speak the words Allen writes here unless he were jesting, as Allen is.
- In the third paragraph, Allen mocks the typical cliché in graduation speeches that calls of the speaker to mention “the predicament of modern man.” Allen also parodies the cliché that calls on the speaker to allude to famous thinkers of the past and present.
- Paragraph four parodies the cliché that calls on the commencement speaker to express complex ideas in simple ways so that those complex ideas can be more easily understood.
- Paragraph five is a parody of the standard expectation that at some point the graduation speaker will allude to modern science.
- Paragraph six parodies the cliché in which the speaker argues for the utter complexity of the human soul.
- The next three paragraphs return to farcical meditations about modern science.
- In the next paragraph, Allen brings in yet another standard topic of commencement addresses – religion:
Religion too has unfortunately let us down. Miguel de Unamuno writes blithely of the "eternal persistence of consciousness," but this is no easy feat. Particularly when reading Thackeray.
In other words, practically every single paragraph in Allen’s piece helps support the main purpose of the work. That purpose is to offer a funny parody (rather than a serious analysis) of graduation speeches.
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