Barack Obama Speech Analysis

In the compelling Inauguration speech of Barack Obama, the first African-American President, a large range of language and oratory techniques are utilized to convey his message to an audience of over a million Americans. The speech was delivered on the traditional inauguration date of the 20th January 2009, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial where, 45 years earlier, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his iconic ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. During Obama’s speech, he uses a range of oratory devices to present himself as credible, the techniques include; the proficient use of tone and performance aspects, extensive use of biblical references, allusion to history, and an important underlying theme. These techniques help to convey his strong message of hope and reapplying the good old American values of honesty, courage, tolerance and loyalty. On the 20th January 2009, democrat Barack Hussain Obama became the first African-American to take the presidential oath for America.

He delivered his inauguration speech to an audience of over a million Americans, and at a time when the world’s economy had taken a downturn and America had a controversial presence in the Middle East. Americas history had been darkened by its racism and history of slavery and so the significance of this event was amplified as it showed a new acceptance and a positive step in American Civil Rights. Obama also delivered his inauguration speech on the steps of the Lincoln memorial where, 45 years earlier, Martin Luther King delivered his iconic ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. Congressman James Clyburn, the highest ranking African-American congressman of that time said about the event, “Today is about the validation of the dream Dr. King initiated 45 years ago on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial”, this shows the significance of the event, and put pressure on Obama to put on a show of strength. In Barack Obama’s Inauguration speech, it soon becomes obvious that he is a seasoned orator who has a natural ability to persuade the audience’s emotions. His use of tone and pitch, amplified by his presentation, has a convincing effect on his delivery.

In his opening sentences he says “I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you’ve bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices bourne by our ancestors.” In hearing this, the listener is struck by his humbleness and sense of humility. The tone urges caution which contrasts with the celebratory mood of the audience. His choice to use words like humbled, grateful and mindful along with his natural charisma and charm, causes the audience to respect him and listen to what he has to say. To increase the desired effect of his speech on the audience, Obama repetidly uses an allusion to history, this also helps to strengthen the audiences confidence in him. His statement “all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness” is a clever twist on the Declaration of Independence, a founding document of America and something all Americans can relate to.

He uses a patriotic appeal and asks for a “…return to these truths”, a return to the old and true American traits of “honesty and hard work, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patrionism”. The appeal effectively utilizes pathos, coupled with with allusion and historic references, to pursuade his audience to believe in him. During the delivery of his speech, Obama repeatidly alludes to biblical references, which acts not only as a useful language technique, but also shows a link to his background and heritage. In saying “the time has come to set aside childish things” (1 Corinthains 13:11), Obama exploits the ethos appeal and cleverly alludes to the refence, as his audience is not all christain and he did not want to offend them. This is yet more proof of his natural oratory ability and it also reflects on his African-American background, in which biblical references and hymns were used and widely known.

These effects combined with the seamless delivery proves his incredible speaking ability and his charisma and charmwhich has helped him in his American dream, from being raised by a single mother, to becoming the first African-American president. Obama’s inauguration speech includes the interesting theme of ‘Drawing strength from out heroic past’. There are many references to history that Obama then applies to the current time. He took office at a troublesome time when the economic downturn was occurring and people were growing weary of the war on terror, so Obama cleverly addresses these issues with references to returning to the ideals of founding fathers, which raises a note of patrionism and brings the audience together. To help portray his theme, Obama includes extensive use of personal pronouns, for example “We the people have remained faithful to the ideals of our forebearers, and true to our founding documents”, he commends the audience for remaining faithful to past ideals while using the personal pronoun ‘we’, which deepens their confidence inhim and continues to draw the audience and speaker together.

The speech effectively serves its purpose and addresses the issues of the day, while being strengthened with the use of personal pronouns, which has a constructive effect on the audience in view of getting the audience to believe in Obama, and accept what he is saying. The effectiveness of Barack Obama’s inauguration speech is complimented by his compelling use of oratory devices and techniques, including; the convincing effect of his tone and pitch, amplified by the presentation, the combined effect of allusion and historic references in making his appeals, an extensive use of biblical references which represents his heritage – and which are thoughtfully alluded to, as well as an underlying theme which helps Obama to elaborate on his message and address the issues of the day. These techniques are the cornerstone to gaining acceptance from the audience and persuading them to believe in what he is saying, and he also uses his charisma and charm in conjunction. The result is, a critically acclaimed speech which the NYTimes states as “Reveling in a moment of national significance” where Obama puts on a positive show of strength, rises to the occasion, and establishes himself as the 44th President of the United States of America.

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