An Analysis of Literary Devices in Kevin Rudd's Apology

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“A stiff apology is a second insult … The injured party does not want to be compensated because he has been wronged; he wants to be healed because he has been hurt” Gilbert K. Chesterton. The art of the apology is an extremely difficult art to master, which balances on a fine line between insincere and fake. This motion turned apology became an incredible way for Kevin Rudd, the prime minister at the time, to deliver an apology that appeals to many kinds of Australian peoples namely the indigenous groups present. This motion showcases many effective techniques for a good apology such as anaphora and empathetic tone, creating a very relatable and personable feel that closely relates to the ideas of beliefs, values, and education. The Prime Minister then followed this apology with a 20 min speech on compensation for indigenous peoples. The combination of speech and apology was extremely well received by the indigenous peoples as well as Australia citizens as it was televised publicly.

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Before analyzing the text some information is required on why this apology was needed and who it was mainly directed to. On February 13th, 2008 Kevin Rudd, the prime minister of Australia presented the apology to indigenous Australians while also using it as a motion to be voted on by the house. This apology was more specifically directed to the stolen generation of Australia, the generations of children that were forcibly taken away from their aboriginal families by government agencies and church missions from the 1900’s to the 1970's. Due to such atrocities supported by the government in the past, the prime minister prior to Rudd, John Howard of the Liberal coalition party, repeatedly rejected requests for a formal government apology in fear of suggesting that they would be admitting liability. Just eight days after Rudd was appointed Prime Minister over Howard, he announced that his government would make a formal apology to Indigenous Australians, the wording in direct discussion with aboriginal leaders, a move that actually received a bipartisan consensus. After Kevin Rudd’s apology and speech the opposition, leader of the Liberal coalition Brendan Nelson, delivered a controversial speech that downplayed some important issues that the Aboriginal communities faced and a visible difference could be seen between each speakers audience as crowds watching turned their backs to him part way through his speech.

Kevin Rudd is able to mitigate some aspects of his setting in a good way. Although a government issued apology that is presented to the house is usually meant to be more formal, it actually achieves a better balance of formality because it is being televised on giant screens outside of parliament house for crowds of people. This helps the apology sound more personable and empathetic as it addresses the general public rather than just a select few in parliament. On the other hand, this apology is also formal enough to be effectively presented as a motion before the house, which was passed unanimously.

One literary device really stands out in his apology, that device being anaphora. Throughout the address, Rudd uses anaphora to deliver the mechanisms needed to try and fix the relationship between Indigenous groups and the government. Using anaphora and actually a little bit of epistrophe the apology can be analyzed as a progression of thought processes and actions. He starts by using “We reflect” referencing the stolen generations and mistreatment the continues on to a “We apologise” getting a little more specific mentioning who performed these actions and what happened to the stolen generation. From there, he transitions to the bit of epistrophe outlining the people he is apologising to and ending each phrase with “we say sorry.”. The last instance of anaphora is a very large one as he uses “A future” in six lines, where he starts to shift his speech towards the basic goals of the motion. As seen by the progression of reflection, apologising, actually saying sorry, to discussing the future of not only the Aboriginal groups in Australia, but of all the citizens of Australia as a whole, Rudd is able to fit a sort of step by step process that the country should use to actually resolve the issue instead of avoiding it like the previous Prime Minister had done.

When used in conjunction with anaphora, the specific syntax used in his apology helps emphasise and drill ideas into the audience. During this speech the phrasing or syntax is relatively short, almost choppy. Even though the sentences themselves can sometimes be very long, the use of many commas, dashes and words such as “and” create a very straightforward and easy to understand message that the audience would receive well. When anaphora is used, it separates the different ideas in the apology clearly and the specific syntax will deliver each message within each idea very concisely.

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