Antithesis as a rhetorical device can best be described as using contrasting words in parallel structure to convey an idea. Antithesis presents words, ideas, or phrases different to one another in an attempt to produce the effect of balance. Kennedy uses antithesis multiple times in his inaugural address, but none more famously than when he said, “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you–ask what you can do for your country.” When urging America to ask what they could do in service to their country as opposed to what they could expect from their country, Kennedy spotlights a deep contrast between the two attitudes in an appeal for large-scale change while also issuing call to public service. As noted on the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum website, when Kennedy delivered his famous “ask not” line, “he appealed to their noblest instincts, voicing a message that Americans were ...
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...y. Kennedy uses hyperbole to create intense and authoritative images of America’s determination to stand against communism, and he exaggerates to make that point, but it is unlikely that he literally meant that the United States could truly “pay any price” or “bear any burden” related to war and the survival of liberty. Still, Kennedy’s overall strength in his position was made abundantly clear, and his message was effective due to the use of this rhetorical device.
John F. Kennedy’s 1961 Inaugural Address is likely as famous and well respected as any other speech in modern American history. It is masterful in its structure and completely persuasive in its delivery. Kennedy used a host of rhetorical devices throughout his speech including antithesis, metaphor, and hyperbole to effectively persuade his audience to appreciate America’s strength, unity, and resolve.
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