John F. Kennedy's Presidency

Start Free Trial

How does John F. Kennedy employ rhetorical elements of ethos and pathos to persuade his audience? Read the text below from John F. Kennedy's inaugural address: "We dare not forget today that we are the heirs of that first revolution. Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friends and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans-born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage-and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which we are committed today at home and around the world. Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear by burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty."  

John F. Kennedy mixes ethos and pathos in the quote you cite in many ways. He uses "ethos" by saying "we" instead of "you" or "I". This makes us seem like we share the same spirit and are united to "assure [...] the success of liberty." As for pathos, we could say that by evoking past wars and "hard and bitter peace," Kennedy makes us feel compassion and gratitude for those who fought for the prosperity that many now have.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Before we can think about how John F. Kennedy's words embrace pathos and ethos, let's be sure we know what pathos and ethos mean.

After looking at multiple dictionaries, we think it's safe to say that "pathos" is a device used to make the audience feel compassion, emotion, or pity.

As for "ethos," that refers to the spirit, the culture, and the guiding principles of an organization, a group, a person, or a country.

Notice the first word of the lines you quote. What is it? It's "we." Already, Kennedy is summoning a communal spirit. He's not talking about himself, he's not talking about us, he's referring to all of us. We're a unit bound together by the ethos of "the first revolution."

We could say that Kennedy injects some pathos into the ethos when he says:

Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friends and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans-born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient...

(The entire section contains 3 answers and 926 words.)

Unlock This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial
Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on May 29, 2020