For my online Eng102 class we had to, essentially, do a rhetorical analysis of Obama's inaugural speech. Because it counts as our daily participation points, we were required to post it on a discussion forum, and respond to two of our classmate's threads. And I found it entertaining. So I posted it. Enjoy.

The origin of ethos and pathos begins with Aristotle (in which I am leaving out their counter-part, logos), wherefore he explains that these three appeals to emotion, ethics and logic are the subdivisions of rhetoric, itself. He states that one must first put aside all preemptive bias, and focus solely on the rhetoric when examining ethos. Thus, in lieu of my new friend Aristotle, I will attempt to refrain from letting my political demons escape and escapade around this discussion board in any unfit manner.

Obama opens his speech employing parallel structure, stating he is "humbled...grateful...[and] mindful". With each verb follows a period of time, placing emphasis on the past ("sacrifices borne by our ancestors"), present ("trust you have bestowed"), and future ("task before us"). Bravo. What a beautiful way to rhetorically unite all aspects of mankind. I had high hopes of where this was going. Unfortunately, I was disappointed with what followed.

After the obligatory "see ya' later, Georgie Dubya", the rhetoric begins to pour. By engaging in personification of the "rising tides of prosperity" and "waters of peace", he compares both peace and prosperity to water--perhaps subtly keying at a rebirth of America, in the essence that water is the sole element of life. He then uses this water to fill the egos of American confidence. He states that Americans have always pursued in hard times, making an allusion to the Declaration of Independence in "We the people".

Surely, he is all about unity. His attempt to deviate from the blame he subconsciously places on corrupt and dollar-hungry politicians turns into a unification of all Americans in failure--the current economic crisis. He states that it is due to our "collective failure to make hard choices". Very motivational, Barack.

He plays at the pathos of the people, invoking emotional response and pontification upon his series of crises: "homes...lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered". Perhaps one of the more effective rhetorical strategies, he touches upon personal issues and tragedies faced in people's day-to-day lives.

On multiple accounts, Obama employs ethos, calling upon the diety above to perhaps align his ethics with that of the Celestial father. He expounds on "the God-given promise that all are equal"--the foundation of his "revolutionary" inauguration as the first black president.

He tries to switch things up a bit, as he uses negation to define the ongoing march of our country. He states that it "has never been...settling for less", nor "the path for the fainthearted". It appears to be an attempt to stir up the hearts of all patriotic Americans, but I'm surely not impressed.

However, he follows by pulling examples from our immigrant ancestors, minority brothers and sisters, and deceased American soliders--successfully tending to the pathos of his audience. He continues by using descriptive imagery, describing those who "worked till their hands were raw", again exemplifying a noble American past. By narrating specific events in the country's past, it makes room for an emotional "ooh" and "awe".

His personal exemplification, alluding to the "small village where [his] father was born", again plays the key of his "African-American minority" melody. Only it seems to sound more like a eulogy than an anthem. Pathos, pathos, pathos.

Oh, yes--some relief. His stab at ethos is quite intriguing and rather effective after the previous and melodramatic emotional appeal. He, again, summons the ethics of the "God that calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny". He explains that "this is the meaning of our liberty and our creed", aligning our creed with that of God's; one nation, under God, indivisible, for liberty and justice for all. We know how it ends.

His conclusion left me blank. His final words quote Thomas Paine's "Common Sense", stating that the city united uner "one common danger". Is his principle platform not based on a campaign of hope? Should we not be uniting, then, under hope?

For a man who made history as the first African-American president of the United States, I expected much more. Obama is known for his power-house speeches; beautiful rhetoric that deceives and captures the minds (and votes) of a large majority of Americans. Yet, I didn't feel the same emotion behind his words. It was to-the-point; it got the job done. But it certainly will not go down in history as remarkably memorable. At least not in my book of books.

*Disclaimer: I apologize, Aristotle--I believe I violated your ethos rule :]


Aubrey Noble said...

Wow, I miss this sort of thing. Good job, Natalie!

Emily said...

One thing. He switched speechwriters for the Inauguration. It stands to reason it would sound a little different. And yeah, he ran on hope, but I think he's seen in the time since he became President-Elect that he has to be a little more of a hardass if he wants to get anything done.

Mike said...

I heard that Obama's speech was going to make sweet love to the English language and expose Shakespeare as a talentless hack. Oh well, at least I hoped it would. It didn't help that Judge Roberts absolutely destroyed the oath, though.

Natalie said...


Mike I sincerely miss you.

Dangit. How come I never got the pleasure of editing YOUR papers during peer editing sessions? Ugh. I'm scarred for life.

Mike said...

aw thanks, we never sat in the same place for an actual paper, just those BS presentations so that he wouldn't have to teach haha.