What are the subjects and purposes of Woody Allen's work titled "My Speech to the Graduates"?

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vangoghfan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Woody Allen’s work of fiction titled “My Speech to the Graduates” is a parody of a high school or college commencement speech. It ruminates on a number of issues, including the following:

  • The idea that humanity faces a choice between total hopelessness and complete extinction (a choice which doesn’t seem much of a choice but which is typical of Allen’s often dark humor). Allen hopes that humanity will make a wise decision.
  • The notion that modern human beings face a crucial problem:

How is it possible to find meaning in a finite world given my waist and shirt size?

Here, again, Allen is obviously having fun with the tendency of commencement speakers to make “profound” statements.

  • Other “profound” issues – such as the existence of the human soul, the nature of the brain, the value of science, the dangers of atomic bombs, the origins of the universe, the nature of mortality, the results of religion, the crisis of faith, the role of chance in existence, our obligations to others, the worship of technology, the failings of machines, the failings of politicians, the benefits of democracy, the dangers of terrorism, the risks of overpopulation, the shortage of energy, and the proliferation of drugs and pornography – are given the same kind of burlesque treatment.

In short, Allen takes an occasion usually associated with pomposity, bromides, and clichés, and mocks it by undercutting all our expectations and supplying plenty of whimsical humor. Rather than harshly satirizing commencement speeches, he takes all the faults of such speeches and pushes them to their (illogical) extremes.



jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In this piece, which is both darkly funny and serious, Allen, writing in 1979, ponders humankind's position at a crossroads, poised between survival and annihilation. He also wonders about the meaning of life. He writes that science can't solve our problems, even if it has put a man on the moon. Still, he feels that science can't peer into our souls. He also finds religion wanting and states that modern man is left only feeling alienated. Government also provides little solace in a society that is mechanized. Allen says that in this alienating world, we turn to mindless distractions like sex and drugs. His purpose in writing this piece is to advise graduates to look to love rather than hate and to avoid the pitfalls of our current existence, which is filled with soullessness in the midst of technological promise.