John F. Kennedy's Presidency

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What structural and stylistic devices are used in JFK's "We choose to go to the Moon" speech?

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One stylistic element which Kennedy uses to great effect is juxtaposition. At several points throughout the speech, he juxtaposes two contrasting elements against one another, creating a tension between them. For example, early on in his speech, he states:

We meet in an hour of change and challenge, in a decade of hope and fear, in an age of both knowledge and ignorance. The greater our knowledge increases, the greater our ignorance unfolds.

There is a tension here between the themes: knowledge is weighed against ignorance, as is hope against fear. Contingency could push the balance either way, and this creates a sense of stakes, as to which direction the balance can turn.

In addition, he makes effective use of analogy. One of the most striking passages in the speech, from a stylistic perspective, involves an analogy. He collapses fifty thousand years of human history to the equivalent of fifty years, and in that sense, he describes the degree to which human knowledge and civilization has accelerated. He discusses the first forty years (of which "we know very little") to the ten-year mark (when "man emerged from his caves"), to the five-year mark (the discovery of writing and the wheel), and forwards through the beginning of Christianity, the discovery of the steam engine, Newtonian physics, electricity, and so on (which are all unfolding in increasingly short timespans).

It's easy to overlook the full degree to which science, knowledge, and technology have accelerated; given that people don't tend to think on a geological timeline, this analogy expresses that acceleration in terms that are far more accessible to most human imaginations. This creates a sense of excitement and possibility as well as an appreciation for this extraordinary sense of scientific progress over time.

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President John F. Kennedy's famous "moon" speech was delivered at the Rice University campus in Houston, Texas, in 1962. By its nature, the speech was unique in that, at face value, it was focused on the promotion of scientific advancement and America's progress in the engineering sciences. In the history of speeches, especially by presidents, there are very few that are science-centered. However, Kennedy's speech about going to the moon was highly political. In essence, the speech was a subliminal message to the US's Cold War foe, the USSR.

The United States and the Soviet Union were not only locked in a nuclear arms race, they were also racing to space. It was important for President Kennedy to deliver a memorable and invigorating speech during his visit to Houston. Kennedy was considered one of the great American orators of the twentieth century.

In the famous "moon" speech, Kennedy uses various stylistic and structural devices.

1. Repetition: President Kennedy says the word "space" over twenty times throughout his speech. He wanted to drive home the magnitude of such an accomplishment. Space had never been explored physically before, and by repeating the word "space," Kennedy constantly reminds the audience of the monumental voyage.

2. Alliteration: Kennedy had a poetic quality in how he delivered his speeches. One of the stylistic devices he used was alliteration. For instance, he uses many s-based words, as in the phrase "in a State noted for strength, and we stand in need of all three." Coupled with the multiple repetitions of the word "space," Kennedy's speech has a lyrical quality to it.

3. Hypophora: This technique is when the speaker asks a question and then immediately answers it. This allows the speaker to set up a "punch line" or to move on to other topics and sub-topics within the speech. For example, in the speech, Kennedy asks a series of questions:

But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain? Why, thirty-five years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas?

This sets Kennedy up to deliver some of his most memorable lines:

We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.

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