What rhetorical devices and purposes are in JFK'S inaugural speech?

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missy575 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

JFK's inaugural address invokes the use of many rhetorical devices:

1. REPETITION: Many of his paragraphs started with "Let both sides..." I think this demonstrated his purpose to unify the country. Partisian politics are difficult throughout the course of an election and he was trying to bring the nation together after the contest.

2. PARALLEL STRUCTURE: This use of repeating grammatical structures creates a rhythm that envokes our attention:

Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.

These italicized words share the same grammatical format: verb + any + noun.

3. RHETORICAL QUESTION: These questions not meant to be answered allowed are positioned to make the audience think about how they would answer the question. Most speakers hope this create action:

Can we forge against these enemies a grand and global alliance, North and South, East and West, that can assure a more fruitful life for all mankind? Will you join in that historic effort?

4. ALLUSION (reference to something famous, in this case... God): JFK was specifically elected because of his Catholic background. He cites this at least twice:

the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God.

and again:

With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God's work must truly be our own.

The italicized is an additional device: personification.

His rhetorical purpose in addition to unifying the country can be summed up in the statement he used that has certainly outlived his legacy: "And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country." He wanted to involve the people in the process from here on out.

teachersage eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Rhetorical devices are persuasive techniques a writer (or speaker) uses to sway an audience to agree with his or her point-of-view about a subject. 

In his inaugural address, Kennedy's purpose is to lay out a vision of the United States as a global leader and to show that US leadership will benefit the entire world. He also wants to unite people by encouraging everyone to strive for idealistic goals. He does this, in part, by using terms that have a strong positive connotation to most people. For example, he uses the words "freedom" or "free" a total of nine times in a short speech. Being "free," which he never defines except to imply that it means throwing off the "chains" of poverty, evokes positive feelings.  Kennedy likewise invokes "peace," a word that most people would respond to positively—especially so soon after the end of World War II.

Kennedy appeals to the idea that freedom, or what he calls the "rights of man," come not from the state, but from God. God has a strong positive ethos or character to most people: if something comes from God, we are not likely to challenge it.

Kennedy also uses flattering language to get the American people on his side:

the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans—born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage

Kennedy's speech appeals to people's higher nature by calling for unity in working toward common goals. He reverses the typical politician's promise to bring "pork" back to his constituents and, instead, memorably tells people to ask themselves what they can do for their country and not what their country can do for them. He also reaches beyond Americans in this Cold War period, asking the "citizens of the world" to also ask themselves what "together we can do for the freedom of mankind."