11/12/12: John F. Kennedy: Inaugural Address

The inaugural address of John F. Kennedy is widely recognized as one of the most appealing and inspiring speeches to the American society. Kennedy successfully uses several rhetorical elements within his speech to positively captivate the hearts and souls of common Americans. Specifically, Kennedy is heavily acclaimed for the usage of chiasmus and the combination of varied repetition and parallelism that influences his message to strive for universal unity.

By definition, chiasmus is a balanced pair of phrases or clauses in which the order of the elements in the first pair is reversed in the second pair. Kennedy implements this rhetorical device in sentences such as “Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate” (line 70). Kennedy attempts to encourage his fellow Americans to have the confidence to hold their ground in a manner of civility and sincerity between foreign affairs in order to achieve common goals. Kennedy also inputs the famous verse, “… ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country” (lines 109-110). The purpose behind this chiasmus was to have the American people represent the significance of defending their unalienable freedoms to the rest of the world.

Moreover, Kennedy uses many different elements of repetition and parallelism such as tetracolons with a combination of polysndetons, asyndetons, and anaphoras. It is important to note that tetracolons are defined as a succession of four coordinate items. One important example with an asyndeton includes, “… born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage” (lines 16-17). Kennedy attempts to portray how the historical path of the United States has undergone through much conflict to preserve human rights to the point where it should be a domestic and universal commitment. Furthermore, Kennedy uses the consistent repetition of the anaphora, “Let both sides…” (lines 71-81) to demonstrate the endless possibilities of how united nations in political affairs could achieve a considerable amount for the benefit of their people. Kennedy also inputs the polysyndeton tricolon, “Nor will it be finished in the first 1,000 days, nor in the life of this Administration, nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet” (lines 86-88). The purpose of this statement was to influence how change toward global peace and cooperation is not a simple process, but a necessary one.

There have been great men who desire the utmost for their people, and Kennedy was certainly one of them. Through his deliberate talent of cleverly formulating the rhetoric within his speech, Kennedy was successful to bring about an influential fervor to his country.


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