John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address: an Analysis

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 John F. Kennedy gives his inaugural address to an audience of millions worldwide. His address is famous for his phrase “My fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.” As Kennedy delivered his speech, he took into consideration the circumstances of the audience, therefore finishing his speech in a record time of only 14 minutes. When further analyzing John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address, a few of his goals emerge. He attempts to achieve these goals through varied rhetorical elements. John F. Kennedy manipulates techniques of diction and syntax to emphasize America’s strengths and ideas, gain more supporters, and unify the American people.

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John F. Kennedy had an underlying purpose throughout the whole speech to enhance America’s strengths and morals. Kennedy attempts to achieve this purpose through the hortative sentence that includes a juxtaposition, ‘Let all our neighbors know that we shall join with them to oppose aggression or subversion anywhere in the Americas’. The use of assonance in ‘aggression’ and ‘subversion’ connects the themes smoothly, which when tied in with the hortative sentence, balances the tone. When Kennedy uses a juxtaposition contrasting ‘join’ and ‘oppose’, the tone is then intensified. This compels the audience to heed his direction because the tone shift and contrast both emphasize America’s morals. Later in Kennedy’s speech, he declares, ‘We dare not forget today that we are the heirs of that first revolution. Let the word go forth from this time and place to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans’. The allusion, or otherwise commonly known analogy, to the “torch [that] has been passed to a new generation of Americans” and the contrast of friend and foe emphasize the American way of life. The allusion to the torch also creates a source of power in Kennedy’s message, supporting American ideals and strengths further. Lastly, Kennedy seals his first purpose with the declaration, “Let every nation know… that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty”. The heavy parallelism in this statement increases the intensity of Kennedy’s address. This quote is also laced with thick connotations and multiple alliterations which ingrain passion in the minds of the audience, to support the traditional American ideals.

John F. Kennedy employs elements of syntax and connotation to gain more support from the audience. Right away Kennedy begins to fulfill this purpose, ‘We observe today not a victory of party, but a celebration of freedom’. The pronoun ‘we’ set the narrative stance, and the volta stacked with parallelism in ‘not a victory of party’ and ‘but a celebration of freedom’ develops the mood for the address. When Kennedy sets the narrative stance alongside the developed mood and the inclusive pronoun, he creates a connection with the audience to invite the audience to join him. Kennedy’s next piece of support affirms ‘let us begin anew – remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof. Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear negotiating. Packed in this pronouncement are techniques of syntax and diction including a shift in narrative stance back to the American citizens, the archaic language with ‘begin anew’ and ‘let us’, a volta and an antithesis. These create a notable tone shift and memorably express his ideas. The effects of Kennedy’s antithesis and archaic language make his statement easier to understand, more relatable, and appeal to logos, all of which help his credibility to gain additional support. Lastly, John F. Kennedy declares, ‘The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it – and the glow from the fire can truly light the world’.

in John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address the strongest purpose throughout his whole address was to unite the American people, accomplished through tone shifts and elements of syntax. Kennedy gets straight to the point, ‘United there is little we cannot do in a host of cooperative ventures. Divided there is little we can do for we dare not meet a powerful challenge at odds and split asunder. The repetition of the idea of unity held together with contrasts and a call to action created a more memorable, which in turn increases the intensity and emphasizes his point. The massage itself was a clear attempt to inspire Americans to come together. Additionally, the syntax elements to emphasize and increase intensity inspire the audience further. Next, John F. Kennedy invites the audience to ‘Let both sides unite to heed in all corners of the earth the command of Isaiah – to ‘undo the heavy burdens… (and) let the oppressed go free”. This hortative sentence intertwined with contrasts and allusions, secured with archaic language, creates clarity, appeals to ethos and logos, and produces a tone shift. The use of a popular allusion to the Bible is appealing to many audience members at this time in history. The continuation of appeal to logos and ethos in this statement in Kennedy’s address encourages the people to follow his precept further. Finally, Kennedy attempts to inspire the audience with the analogy, ‘Now the trumpet summons us again’ and the summons to ‘Can we forge against these enemies a grand a 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?’. These biddings use sources of diction including the allusion to the trumpet and rhetorical questions to increase the intensity and memorably express his ideas. The use of the allusion strengthens John F. Kennedy’s purpose. The memorable expressions and the increased intensity invites a feeling of passion and motivation in the audience, to come together and heed Kennedy’s words.

Overall, as John F. Kennedy goes through his inaugural address, he uses a multitude of syntax and diction techniques to create an effect on his audience and eventually achieve his three main purposes of uniting the American people, gaining more supporters, and emphasizing the United States’ strengths and morals. A few common techniques Kennedy used were hortative and imperative sentences, juxtapositions, archaic language, and allusions. These in part, shifted the tone, emphasized his ideas, created contrasts, appealed to logos and ethos, memorably expressed his ideas, and increased the intensity. Each of these effects portrayed Kennedy’s passion for America’s morals and ideals while engaging American citizens. This, in turn, inspired them to support John F. Kennedy in his new presidency and unite as a country to become a more successful nation. In the end, Kennedy achieved his goals by using features of diction and syntax to inspire the audience. 

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