What methods does Woody Allen use to catch and hold the reader's attention in the text "My Speech to the Graduates"?

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vangoghfan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Woody Allen’s text titled “My Speech to the Graduates” catches and holds the attention of readers in a number of ways, including the following:

  • It bears a title that invites curiosity. We wonder if Allen might indeed have given such a speech, although it becomes clear after we read the first paragraph that if he in fact did so, he did so in a spirit of fun.
  • It opens with a sentence that seems to announce an argument of the utmost importance.
  • It immediately undercuts that sentence in the two that follow. Allen thus makes us laugh and makes us wonder in what other ways he will mock and parody a typical graduation speech.
  • In the second paragraph, Allen’s phrasing is so finicky that it is funny. Both the first paragraph and the second are completely typical of Allen’s work both in prose and in films, and so we are now curious to see how he will proceed.
  • In the third paragraph, Allen makes allusions to both “serious” and “popular” culture and thus interests people who identify themselves with both camps or with either.
  • In the fourth paragraph (which, like the others, is appealingly short), Allen descends from the lofty to the personal in a way that employs comic juxtaposition – a method used throughout this piece.
  • In the fifth paragraph, Allen makes a sexual joke of the sort that is likely to appeal to many readers (especially men).
  • In the sixth paragraph, Allen makes a joke about family members and thus deals with a topic to which many people will be able to relate.
  • In the seventh and eighth paragraphs, as well as elsewhere in this piece, Allen asks questions – a technique almost custom designed to appeal to our attention, since the technique thereby involves us as potential answerers. This technique also appears in the two ensuing paragraphs:

And where is science when one ponders the eternal riddles? How did the cosmos originate? How long has it been around? Did matter begin with an explosion or by the word of God?

And if by the latter, could He not have begun it just two weeks earlier to take advantage of some of the warmer weather? Exactly what do we mean when we say, man is mortal? Obviously it's not a compliment.

  • Perhaps the most common way in which Allen makes us interested (and keeps us interested) in this piece is by offering a step-by-step parody of practically every cliché ever heard in any graduation speech imaginable.  Even more significantly, however, Allen makes us laugh (or smile) and thus constantly entices us to read further in order to receive more pleasure.