Rhetoric Analysis of President Obama’s Inaugural Speech

Posted: November 27th, 2013





Rhetoric Analysis of President Obama’s Inaugural Speech

            The most famous speech in the past three years has to be President Obama’s inaugural speech. The occasion was his inauguration as the President of the United States of America after a landslide win in the elections in majority of the states in America. The speech Obama delivered in his day of inauguration served as a thanking speech as well as a declaration of authority for the new position he had just acquired. The occasion was historical since it marked the day America got the first African American President and a president who believed in democracy and stood for peace, justice, equality and the rule of law. The speech had emotion, logic and was being delivered by quite a reputable character.

The speech was a measured one, with instances of somberness and others of restoring hope to the American people. The speech was direct and pragmatic enough in addressing the issues faced currently by the American people. He however reduced the inspiration that was a common characteristic of his speeches during the campaign period. The auditioning for the position of President officially ended and the position was granted to him. The speech he made on that cold day in Washington DC involved the use of many fundamentals of rhetoric. The speech had a clear and concise arrangement of key points that enabled the greatest effect of the speech to be achieved. The organization of the points was chosen keenly in order for it to run according to the whole length of the speech.

The main theme of the speech was to return the ideals of the founding fathers to the American nation and it touched every part of the speech including, the economy, the war and American foreign relations. This promoted cohesion and the speech became easy to follow. Ethos is an element of rhetoric found in speeches and it represents the credibility or stature of the speaker to the people he/she is addressing. Ethos is created in Obama’s speech where he is seen to have memorized the entire speech. Memory is indeed important in the art of speech giving. Memorizing of the speech increases the speaker’s credibility and gives them a good image of being prepared and organized. Memory also adds a lot on the delivery of the speech.

Ethos is also created when the President opens his speech by saying “I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors” (Nordquist, 2009). Here he cements ethos stating how humbled he is, showing his courtesy and politeness to the people. His words also depict ethos when he shows his respect for the foundation that had been laid down by the American fore fathers and the soldiers. By recognizing his predecessors, his speech builds his credibility. When the President says, “…from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born…” (Nordquist, 2009), it works as ethos and builds his credibility further. When he also says, “…whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath” (Nordquist, 2009). His credibility is built strongly.

These two statements are said to show his humble beginnings and how far behind he has come from. He shows that his humble beginning did not act as a barrier for the achievement of his dream to lead a great nation like America. The statements along with others refer to segregation and slavery and refer to a dark time in the American history that most Americans feel emotionally attached to. His statement about his father, being black, would not have been served in a public restaurant, emotionally reach the American people and help to build his ethos since he refers to not only his father but a society that would have been segregated. Moreover, he shows that the segregation would have occurred in a country that he now leads. The ethos used inspires the audience with trust for Obama and creates identification for him. This is a crucial aspect of the persuasiveness of the speech.

Logos is the logic or reasoning handed by an author of a speech. There are many logos created by Obama in his speech including statements like, “Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched” (Nordquist, 2009). In this statement, found in the ninth paragraph of his speech, he explains, showing great intellect and logic, about the market forces and their effect on the American economy. The speech continues to show logic when he states that, “But this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control. The nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous. The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our gross domestic product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on the ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart — not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good” (Nordquist, 2009).

In these statements, he speaks further about the American market. He adds that the secret to success is the willing participation by everyone to the cause of building the American economy, peace and prosperity. Logic however is found generally in the entire speech since most of the ideas and issues addressed in the speech are current issues faced by the Americans. Therefore, they relate to all the Americans and they made sense to every American. Pathos is the appeal created in a speech that is based on creating an emotional effect on the listeners. This is also quite common in the speech in several phrases like, “To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds” (Nordquist, 2009).

This statement, found in the seventh paragraph from the last, is addressed to non-American citizens, and nations in the world that are not rich in resources and finances. It serves as a promise by president Obama, a vow that he shall work with the American people to help the less fortunate from outside America. This passage creates pathos through the compassion he shows to people outside his nation. In the speech there are numerous references to the word “we” (Nordquist, 2009). This creates pathos by illustrating to the people that he recognizes that without the American people there would not be an America. He instills confidence in them that he shall work together with them to create a successful nation. “That ‘we’ are in the midst of crisis is now well understood” (Nordquist, 2009), is one of the many statements where Obama refers to the people of America collectively.

Other minor elements of rhetoric found in the speech include poetic phrases that served the purpose of igniting the listeners’ imaginations with a vivid imagery. Such a statement is, “And because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace” (Nordquist, 2009). This statement speaks of the past dark times that America has gone through and urges the people never to let America go back to that place. There are also statements in the speech that were delivered with short sentences or sharp jabs. These are meant to drive the point home and at the same time stress the points. Some statements are like, “The capital was abandoned” (Nordquist, 2009), “The enemy was advancing” (Nordquist, 2009), “The snow was stained with blood” (Nordquist, 2009). These statements are delivered following each other to show the realness and the severity of the situation as at the time in reference.

There was also a tricolon in the speech. A tricolon is a series of three statements that are delivered in a parallel style while they are not related but fit grammatically in one sentence. Such an example is, “I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors” (Nordquist, 2009). This statement is found in the first paragraph of the speech and is meant to display appreciation to the American people and the ancestors. Overall, the President is an excellent orator and he made use of his surroundings, his energy, and energy from the audience, his words and phrases to deliver a classic inauguration speech. Rhetorically it incorporated all three major aspects of ethos, logos and pathos in different instances. It was well organized and contained a powerful appeal to the people’s emotions.












Works Cited

Nordquist, Richard. “The Inaugural Address of Barack Obama.” About.com. 20 Jan. 2009. Web. 23 June, 2011.

< http://grammar.about.com/od/classicessays/a/obamainaugural_3.htm>

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