Analysis of Inaugural Speeches

A speech by presidents has been a source of great interest as they demonstrate the epitome of public speaking. The inaugural speech of the President is addressed not only to the crowd present or the Americans but to the whole world. This essay analyzes the inaugural speeches of President Obama and John F. Kennedy based on the topic, the addressee, usage of words and structure of sentences, and usage of imagery, metaphor, or simile.

Kennedy’s speech was brief compared to President Obama’s address. His speech consisted of 1335 words, and that of Obama was 2423. The speech by Kennedy is brief but articulate, expressing his ideas through economic usage of the word and his eruditeness. The presidential inaugural speech of John F. Kennedy is a clear indication of rhetoric and the presence of the situation (Bitzer). The topic was chosen in accordance with the political situation of the time (Lucas), i.e., the Cold War. Apart from the opening salutation, of the 27 paragraphs consisting of Kennedy’s inaugural speech, twenty-three were direct and clearly directed to the addressee. Kennedy employs a system of multiple addresses, which has also been adopted by President Obama in his speech.

The topic of the presidents used for the speech was different. Kennedy spoke more on foreign affairs due to the problems in Congo, Laos, Cuba, etc., and the Cold War. The speech of Obama was more directed to internal affairs like the economy, fiscal policies, education, and health policies. When it came to foreign affairs, it was more on terrorism and affairs related to Iran, Iraq, or Afghanistan.

The speech of Kennedy is full of parallel sentences, and there is extensive use of antithesis in his speech. For example, “Let us never negotiate out of fear, but as what you can do for your country”. In addition, Kennedy’s words were well chosen and sentences well balanced. Such use of antithesis is evident in Obama’s speech, too: “And we will act not only to create new jobs but to lay a new foundation for growth”.

Comparing both the speeches, the audiences of the two speeches are clearly different, which results in the difference in the form and content of the topic (Lucas). The key pub speaking technique used by Kennedy is through direct identification of the addressee, which is more the friends and foe of America, while Obama’s speech is directed towards mostly the Americans. The audience centeredness is clear in both the speeches, but the audience is different in them. Kennedy reiterated words like a pledge to emphasize his request for allegiance, and Obama identified with the Americans by constantly stressing on us, our, and us. Kennedy too used we instead of you to address the audience.

The use of imagery in the speech is employed by Obama, who clearly depicts through an articulate presentation of the imagery of two people trying to shake hands: “…we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.” Here he directly addresses the ‘foes’ of America. His speech has metaphors, which demonstrate the condition of the economy. In the first paragraph itself, Obama creates the sense of threat that America faces presently. These are further elucidated using meteorological metaphors like ‘clouds gather’, ‘storms rage’, and ‘currents are icy’. Kennedy has used metaphor in his speech to caution against Communists: “…those who foolishly sought power by riding the tiger ended up inside”.

In essence, the speeches are different in their structure, content, and addressee. However, there are some similarities like identification with the audience by using phrases like “My fellow countrymen” or “citizens”. Both the presidents introduce the topics for the speech in the introduction itself. In addition, the reiteration of the political rhetorics of the time is apparent in both speeches.


Bitzer, Lloyd F. The Rhetorical Situation. New York: Guilford Press, 1999.

Lucas, Stephen E. The Art of Public Speaking, 9th Edition. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2006.

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