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Rhetorical Analysis of Obama's Inaugural Address 2008

By meaganig Feb 27, 2013 1157 Words
Rhetorical Analysis
The 2008 presidential campaign was controversial, emotional, historical and also amidst an economic crisis. Barack Obama’s victory marked a change in American society regarding race and politics. His election as the first African American President of the United States is profound and signifies a changing America. Obama gave his inaugural address on January 20, 2009 in Washington D.C. Unlike the campaign, the inauguration was a celebration, marked by clear skies and a patriotic crowd. More than one million people gathered in the National Mall to support the newly elected President despite cold weather. His primary audience was the American people viewing, but he also appealed to a secondary audience consisting of nations across the globe. Obama’s use of diction, tone, and vocal variety created a powerful delivery that supported his implicit purpose. In order to achieve his explicit purpose, he established and maintained a positive ethos and appealed to pathos through imagery. Obama’s explicit purpose was deliberative and challenged Americans to return to the moral truths “upon which our success depends”. He does not clearly state his main claim until the end of the speech. He goes on to list these truths as, “honesty and hard work, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty, and patriotism”. After listing these values and challenging Americans to return to them, he states, “[w]hat is required now of us is a new era of responsibility – a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world [. . .]”. He is leaving it up to American citizens to take responsibility to face the challenges of today by returning to principles of yesterday. Implicitly, Obama’s speech was an attempt to generate a sense of hope back into America. He chooses words such as ‘hope’, ‘unity’, and ‘peace’ in order to rhetorically soothe the audience. He delivers a powerful implicit message through his use of diction, tone, and vocal variety. The diction that Obama used in addition to tone and vocal variety created a powerful delivery that contributed to the success of his motives for speaking. By choosing to use particular words or phrases, Obama was able to convey his message more clearly and he was also able to affect the audience in a particular way. For example, near the beginning of the speech he says, “[t]he time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit”. This is another way of stating his explicit purpose. Telling the audience that they have an ‘enduring spirit’ is an attempt to encourage them to press on. Another example of this encouraging diction is when he says, “we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America”. This phrase received great reception from the audience because of the optimism it instilled. Not only did the specific words that he chose contribute to the success of his speech, but the way in which he delivered the words ultimately made the purpose of the speech successful. Throughout the duration of his speech, Obama maintained a clear, strong, confident voice that easily projected across the magnificent crowd. He enunciated each word clearly and carefully and adjusted his tone appropriately with his speech. He also emphasized particular words in order to stress their significance. One particular example of this was when Obama was discussing our common defense and he said, “[a]nd we are ready to lead once more”, stressing each word separately and with great force. This is important because it gets the audience’s attention and not only focuses on his explicit purpose, but also implicitly creates optimism that generates hope into the crowd. In order to gain credibility with his audience, Obama had to first establish a positive ethos. Without credibility, Obama would not be able to achieve his primary purpose. He appeals to ethos when he opens his speech with “[m]y fellow citizens”. By putting himself on the same level as the people who had elected him President, he was able to gain their trust and respect. He does this again when he says “[. . .] We the People have remained faithful” only a few sentences later. Not only does Obama have to establish a positive ethos to accomplish his explicit purpose, he also needs to maintain a positive ethos. He does this successfully several times throughout his speech. One way in particular that he does this is by continuing to include himself with the American citizens. He does not blame the state of the economy on the government, citizens, or anyone else, but instead calls it “our collective failure to make hard choices”. He could easily point a finger at another political party, for example, but he does not, and that maintains his positive credibility. A final way in which Obama establishes and maintains a positive ethos is by addressing the opposing side. He discusses how they will criticize his plans and refutes it by saying, “[t]he question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works [. . .]”. By taking the opposing side into account, Obama demonstrates that he is well prepared and credible which enables him to achieve his explicit purpose. Obama also appeals to pathos through descriptive imagery in attempt to motivate people to return to old moral values. He discusses the Americans who have struggled, sacrificed, and persevered for generations and the examples that they are. For instance, he says,“[f]or us, they packed up [. . .] and traveled [. . .] [f]or us, they toiled in sweatshops [. . .] endured the lash of the whip [. . .] plowed the hard earth[. . .] [f]or us, they fought and died [. . .]”. His repeated use of “for us” is an example of anaphora and is significant because it reinforces the sacrifice behind the struggle. He wanted Americans to remember those in the past who had fought and endured for freedom and victory. By doing this, Obama further motivated his audience to return to old moral values and encouraged them to take responsibility to face the challenges of this age. In conclusion, Barack Obama’s diction, tone, and vocal variety contributed to an influential delivery that directly influenced the success of his implicit purpose of instilling optimism into the American people. By establishing and maintaining a positive ethos, Obama created a more receptive audience that was willing to hear what he had to say because of his recognized credibility. This enabled him to achieve his primary purpose of challenging Americans to return to old moral values and to take responsibility for themselves, their nation, and even the world. Finally, Obama appealed to pathos in an attempt to further challenge Americans by reminding them of brave Americans from the past who have struggled and sacrificed so that freedom could live on. Barack Obama’s Inaugural Address is quite successful when analyzing these elements because he effectively fit his message to the current economic circumstances and used suitable techniques to appeal to the audience.

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