Recently, I had been spending a lot of time looking up persuasive and powerful speeches throughout the world’s history. So many of these powerful speeches hold such a strong influence in the hearts of many people. One of the speeches that I decided to focus was the Gettysburg Address by Abraham Lincoln. I’ve always been a huge fan of the American Civil War, and this speech was one of the biggest and most powerful in regards to that tragic event. With some of the things I’ve been learning in my Communication courses online, I decided to evaluate the speech and the techniques used therein.
The history of the United States of America is filled with tragedy, triumph, depression, elation, and everything in-between. However, one specific circumstance stands above the rest. After fighting to become a nation, the United States was forced into a conflict to maintain unity throughout the nation. After one of the largest and bloodiest battles in American history, President Abraham Lincoln gave a famous speech called the Gettysburg Address. The main purpose of this speech was to provide inspiration and hope to the American people that the nation was still united and was inevitably heading towards a collective whole. For this instance, an analysis of the speech was done using several methods and then comparing each method to find similarities and differences. First, Aristotelian analysis was used to discover the effectiveness of persuasion in the speech. Next, Burke’s dramatism analysis helped pinpoint the exact parts of the speech that allowed Abraham Lincoln to successfully perform while holding to the truths of what he said. Finally, a fantasy theme analysis of the speech was done to help identify the ulterior and literal meanings of those famous words. Each approach has its strengths and weaknesses, but certain strategies worked better than others.
Aristotelian analysis is described as examining communication content to identify and assess its persuasive strategies. When analyzing a speech, using Aristotelian analysis requires several steps and definitions. The most essential keys of this particular analysis are logos, ethos, and pathos. These three methods of persuasion are not necessarily seen in every form of persuasive speaking or advertising. Treadwell (2016) even mentions that ethos was the most essential form of persuasion in communication in the eyes of Aristotle. This means that only one step could be found within the speech rather than all three.
After carefully analyzing the Gettysburg Address, it is abundantly clear that ethos and pathos both play a large role. Pathos is described as playing on the emotions of others as a persuasion technique. It is also known that ethos is a reference to the person’s character. Analyzing the speech with these two elements in mind requires careful identification of certain words and the speaker of the words.
Abraham Lincoln has been described as a pivotal and essential idealist in the history of the United States. Further confirmation of Abraham Lincoln’s character can be found in some of the actions he took during his presidency. The Emancipation Proclamation, time spent in the military, and formation of the Republican Party are just a few examples of this man’s merit. Delving into the ethos of Abraham Lincoln as a leader, a President, and a good man helps portray the wisdom and truth of his words at Gettysburg. Abraham Lincoln’s words are famous for the sheer raw emotion heard in his voice as he spoke each word.
The words of the speech carry as much merit as the character of the man that spoke them. Certain words used during the speech paint a graphic image of idealism and belief. A majority of the speech alludes to the idea that the unity of the people is essential for the success of the nation. Lincoln uses words like liberty, equal, nobly, and devotion. These words when paired with the emotion said to be heard in his voice are small entities of inspiration. Throughout the speech, Lincoln uses the word dedicated a total of six times. The Gettysburg Address is only 272 words, and one word is used multiple times to describe how the nation must respond to the fallen at Gettysburg. It is clear through this remembrance that Lincoln was attempting to instill inspiration, as well as hope, within the minds of people.
Dramatism is an analysis of communication as a performance with an actor performing a drama to a catered audience or situation. There are five questions that dramatistic analysis asks in order to better understand the effectiveness of certain forms of communication. In the case of the Gettysburg Address, answers to each of the five questions can be found.
First, the act taking place is the address of over fifteen thousand people after the largest battle in American history. Next, Abraham Lincoln is performing the speech. He is performing this speech due to the gravitas and repercussions of a battle so large it consumed more than 150,000 American lives. The speech took place on November 19th, 1863, and it took place on the very battlefield that was being honored. Finally, the most important part of dramatistic analysis, the speech was given because the battle was the turning tide for the Civil War, and more American lives were lost in those three days than in any battle in history. All five of these units of the pentad helped spurn a few words into a famous speech still studied today.
Abraham Lincoln was attempting to paint a picture of remembrance and devotion in the eyes and ears of the public during his speech. Fantasy theme analysis is a method of rhetorical analysis that provides a way of understanding group consciousness and the development of shared values. Lincoln was performing a speech on a battlefield where the victors and the attendees of the speech were Union loyalists.
The war had raged on for several years with victories on both sides of the conflict. In this particular situation, it was pertinent that the citizens of the Union still had hope. The urge for victory was just as prevalent in the people as it was in Lincoln. Understanding this, Lincoln drew the people into a shared vision of victory, liberty, freedom, and devotion. Even though despair gripped the Union, it was Lincoln’s hope that his speech could help siphon that despair while inculcating elation with remembrance.
All three methods carry weight as effective means of analysis. Each one can complement the other, but does not necessarily need to be used when performing analysis of the content. Throughout the full analysis, all three methods give similar results into the effectiveness, as well as the technique of the speech. Even though all three were effective in their own way, the first two methods provided the most return on the investment.
Attempting to decipher how well the fantasy theme analysis was true is difficult because there is no way to truly understand how each person that attended the speech felt. In order to use this form of analysis to full efficiency, the idealism of the crowd is necessary. The first two forms of analysis takes a closer look at the actual speech itself, as well as the person performing the speech, rather than the people listening to it.
Choosing which method to use depends on several factors. First, understanding the underlying purpose at its core is essential to choosing the right method. Second, all variables must be taken into account, including but not limited to the creator, the actual content, and the receivers of the content. Finally, the researcher might be more accustomed to asking certain questions, and might feel more comfortable using distinct techniques. A researcher using tools that he or she finds ineffective or difficult will have undesirable results. The Gettysburg Address should be analyzed differently than a commercial for a product because all aspects of the content differ in the previously listed terms.
When performing any kind of content analysis, certain tactics will always seem preferable to others for a myriad of reasons. In the case of the Gettysburg address, three methods were used. Aristotelian analysis was used to try and determine the character of the speaker as well as the emotional resonance of the words. A dramatistic analysis was used to better pinpoint the intricacies of individual aspects of the speech. A fantasy theme analysis was then implemented in an attempt to discover how the dynamic between the speaker and the group affected the overall outcome of the speech. The three methods showed similar results, but an obvious correlation between two of them was found, while the other was less effective. Each method has its own merits, but in the end, the researcher, as well the type of content, will indicate the best approach to analysis.