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Rhetorical Analysis of The Gettysburg Address

A rhetorical analysis of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

In a very reverent, yet quick, address, Abraham Lincoln not only honorably bestows a farewell to the soldiers who gave their lives for the livelihood of their country, but through his rhetorical usage of juxtaposition, repetition, and parallelism, Lincoln unites his speech together, and this in turn transfers into his central message of unity as a nation. 

Lincoln’s usage of juxtaposition, the comparison of two ideas, gives life to how two completely different ideas, the North and the South, should become one, just as he juxtaposes life and death under the same pen.  The main purpose of juxtaposition is to place two ideas or phrases which may be completely opposite such as the “living and dead,” together and allow the reader to see them side by side.  Lincoln goes the extra step and conveys his juxtaposed ideals to coincide with his uniting tone.  Lincoln’s remorse for the Civil War, which was in a downhill phase, comes out as he mourns the loss of a fellow American, not making it matter whether he was a Union soldier or a Confederate.  Lincoln also encourages the audience to not let their deaths be made in vain, but rather remember how two separate ideas, or notions, can coexist unless under a similar structure.  His final statement, almost a third of the entire piece, creates one final juxtaposition of a “new birth” and the prevention of a “perished” nation.  This patriotic appeal enthralls the audience to action, because the American people know how vital liberty is.  This final statement surely left a mark on the reader, mostly because of the burning patriotism and zeal which typifies the average American.  Lincoln’s usage of juxtaposition allows him to transfer that zeal into action, by uniting the American people.

Two concrete examples of repetition lie in the opening statement of Lincoln’s speech, both of which set a precedent for the repetitious nature of the entire address.  One of these clearly outweighs the other, but repetition in general is used to tie the entire piece together under common diction, such as “we,” “our,” “us.” Additionally, the word “dedicated” appears several times, not only to tie the paragraphs together, but to also appeal to pathos, or emotional appeal.  Though the word dedicated does convey this message, the inclusive choice of pronouns end up leaving the lasting impression on the reader.  The word “I” is absent, as well as the word “you.”  But to include all the people, North and South, Lincoln utilizes we, us and our to group the nation as a whole under a common address.  Because of the high emotions in the audience, because of the “table-turning” battle at Gettysburg, Lincoln plays on these emotions by never excluding a single American citizen.  Finally, through parallelism and asyndeton, the final bit of his address, which is still quoted today, “of the people, by the people, and for the people,” represents the Preamble of the Constitution, which originally assisted in weaving this great nation together, This appeal to ethos demonstrates how even at the time of the Constitution, our founding fathers were divided, they still came together under a single parchment of paper, very similar to Lincoln’s address. 

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