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More Perfect Union

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“A More Perfect Union” by Barack Obama
- A rhetorical analysis

The speech called “A More Perfect Union” was delivered by the American senator Barack Obama on March 18, 2008 at a convention in Philadelphia.

The speech deals with themes such as the racial tensions, races in general and inequality in America.
Big parts of the speech are based on Obama’s personal story. He is the child of a mixed marriage, and being married to a black woman hasn’t prevented him from being successful. That, Obama claims, wouldn’t be possible in any other country besides America and it’s an example of what American culture is truly like.
Obama claims that the key to solve America’s problems can only be found in the unity of American society, which as different as it is still shares the same foundation and hopes according to him. Obama hopes to heal America’s racial wounds and move forward from a negative past, in a positive manner.

Obama’s speech uses the rhetorical concepts of ethos, pathos, and logos.
Ethos is how the speaker’s character and credibility has influence on the audience, whereas pathos is a rhetorical way that alters the audience’s views through emotional appeals. Finally logos attempts to influence the audience by demonstrating the truth – the speaker uses his/hers knowledge, common sense and logic abilities to make a statement.
These three rhetorical concepts are all evident within the speech and expressed in various ways.
Obama gains ethos by explaining his own “genetic makeup”: “I’m the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas (…)” He continues that he married a black American woman who has both slave and slave-owner flowing within her, and states that this blood of “humanity” has been pass on to their two daughters.
Obama reveals his own remarkable American story, and ethos is achieved through storytelling. This way Obama creates a biological connection with his audience.
Pathos is in the speech achieved through the use of emotional appeals. Obama modifies the thoughts and feelings of his audience through imagery, alliteration and storytelling.
This rhetorical devise occurs when Obama tell the story of his grandfather “who survived a Depression to serve in Patton’s army during World War II”. The use of key words such as “Depression”, “Patton’s army” and “World War II” evokes emotions in terms of patriotism.
This makes the audience feel compassion for Obama’s grandfather, and a bond of relation is forged between Obama and his audience.
Finally logos are achieved when Obama explains the problems with race within America, and later by giving logical resolutions to these race problems. Obama’s arguments are clearly spoken, and he assumes that the audience is there to learn and be enlightened. In essence, Obama uses elements from logos because he appeals to the logical sense.

Obama also utilize the power of alliterations in his speech. Sentences such as “ultimately unfinished”, “unless we perfect our union by understanding”, and “conventional candidate” appears when you read the speech. These alliterations provide emphasis meaning, and it aids in memory because it’s catchy. It gives the speech symmetry and a generally pattern is formed.
The alliterations create a melodic effect and people will be more likely to remember it, which is a clever tactic for Obama.

Another rhetorical devise that occurs in the speech is repetition e.g. “(…) a march for more just, more equal, more free, more caring and more prosperous America.” Obama uses this rhetorical technique to reinforces this message and underline his key ideas. The use of repetition is effective in Obamas speech because it allows him to emphasis on his words and ideas; this also adds conviction to what he is saying.

Another thing to take notice in is Obamas way of connecting with the past. This appears in the first part of the speech where Obama declares: “Two hundred and twenty one years ago, in a hall that still stands across the street, a group of men gathered and, with these simple words, launched America's improbable experiment in democracy (…)”. In this quote Obama connects the past to the present and he highlights the importance of the location in which the speech is given. This provides a more emotional public feeling and it’s easier for the audience to relate to the speech subject.

To put the text into perspective, I will relate the speech “A More Perfect Union” to the speech “The American promise” which both were delivered by then present American president Barack Obama. Parallels are easily drawn because the two speeches have common features. The two speeches both appeal to emotions, and themes such as unity of the American people and human differences occur in both of them.
Obama also involves his private life in both speeches. He mentions his biological roots and his two loved daughters in both speeches. This is done to bond with the audience in a more emotional and intimate way.
Obama want the people of America to stop fighting with ghosts of the past and start building a modern future. If this call for unity is acknowledged, nothing can prevent America from progress. Knowing that this change is possible is what motivates Obama to fight for his country.

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[ 1 ]. “A More Perfect Union” by Barack Obama – side 108, line 16
[ 2 ]. “A More Perfect Union” by Barack Obama – side 108, line 17
[ 3 ]. “A More Perfect Union” by Barack Obama – side 107, line 10
[ 4 ]. “A More Perfect Union” by Barack Obama – side 108, line 8
[ 5 ]. “A More Perfect Union” by Barack Obama – side 108, line 28
[ 6 ]. “A More Perfect Union” by Barack Obama – side 108, line 3
[ 7 ]. “A More Perfect Union” by Barack Obama – side 107, line 13

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