In Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address" and "Letter to His Son" by Robert Lee, analyze how the diction used by each writer is appropiate to the audience, occasion, and purpose of the text.

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

If we define "diction" as "the appropriate choice of words" in a given work, one can see where word choice played a major role in conveying the effectiveness of a given work.  For Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address" the audience had collected to commemorate the sacrifices of Union soldiers at the battleground site in Pennsylvania.  As commander in chief, Lincoln is asked to speak about the soldiers' sacrifices and what it means in the context of the war.  His purpose becomes singular in mission in how he wishes to unite the sacrifices that the soldiers made to the larger construction of the war's purpose.  Diction becomes critical in this process.  Lincoln uses terms such as "resting place" to convey the sense of honor that is intrinsic to the soldiers' sacrifice.  Following this, diction such as "consecrate," "dedicate" and "hallow" are all used in reference to describe both the battle and the sacrifice the soldiers made to it.  The term "never forget" is especially poignant as it captures the timeless quality of the soldiers' even amidst the temporal condition of war.  For Lincoln, diction played a vital role in making his speech so memorable.  He did not spray words on a page.  Rather, he crafted each one to represent meaning in the text.

The diction that General Lee employs is also significant. For Lee, the audience is a more subjective one than Lincoln.  In writing to his son, confessing what a father feels to the audience of a loving child, his word choice is more personal because the occasion of writing a personal letter conveys a more subjective purpose in writing.  Consequently, Lee writes in a confessional tone.  As a Southerner, the pressure for him to overwhelmingly embrace secession as a viable option must have been immense.  Such pressure is reflected in the diction the Lee uses to describe secession.  Lee describes secession, the dissolution of the Union, as "calamitous."  In articulating it as "nothing more than revolution," Lee describes secession as a regrettable error in the course of the nation's historical progression.  Secession is further articulated as an "accumulation of all the evils."  In his notion of "mourning," Lee is able to communicate his emotions regarding the path of secession through the diction he employs.

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