Everybody is fighting for one’s personal rights. Some believe that it is their right to oppress others. Finally, there are those who fight for the rights of others. Many leaders have tried to stop oppression – but the minority has succeeded. Not many are being compared to Moses – and even fewer are being celebrated at memorial services when it’s over forty years since one left us. America’s current President, Barack Obama, has his focus on one of the greatest orators in American history, in his speech at the Groundbreaking Ceremony of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial (2006). In the following, I will analyze and interpret Obama’s memorial speech. My main-focus will be aimed at Obama’s personal opinion about Martin Luther, and his use of similar rhetorical instruments as Martin Luther did.
The main topic in Obama’s speech is the struggle for freedom and equality of opportunity in America. He emphasizes this by making the speech focus on the activist Martin Luther, who according to the majority of America’s population is the definition of liberty. Since there are a lot of parallels between Martin Luther and the struggle for freedom, and that the struggle is an issue Obama also attaches great political importance to, it is obvious and a well-chosen subject he clarifies. His intention is not to rally support for a movement or to criticize the republican part of the government. It’s simply a tribute to remind Martin Luther and his operations and to create a sense of community. Just as Martin Luther King Jr. did in his speech “I have a dream”. They both do it aware that a large community will go far.
Obama presents the speech at the Groundbreaking ceremony of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial. Given that Obama and Martin Luther supports the same values, I could imagine that most, who attend the Martin Luther King memorial, are supporters of Obama’s policies. Therefor it is an important day under great circumstances for Obama to show up and make socialistic supporters remember what he and they themselves are fighting to reach. Furthermore, Obama has the opportunity to create a sense of community, because the audience most likely is affected by the reminding of one of the greatest orators in American history – Martin Luther King who also is one of the reasons why the American society has become as equalized as it is. In short, it’s a day where the financial crisis isn’t the audiences’ main-focus.
The language In Obama’s speech at the National Ceremony is build of coordinating sentences with a small vocabulary and a small amount of loan words. This is because of the informal, relaxed circumstances and audience. Again – his intention is not to convey supporters, its a speech in memory of a essential chapter of American History. I also assume that the small amount of loan words is due to the socialistic audience, of which a big part is from the working class who’s more susceptible to a simple and straightforward vocabulary, which constitutes a clear message. Of course, it is a memorial ceremony and therefor a must that it appeals to common Americans. Even though the subject already has an emotional impact on the crowd, he makes use of the appeal form, pathos. He does this by being rather personal.
He puts the whole speech up on the basis of his closest family. He expresses his personal view of Martin Luther by explaining how he would respond to her daughter if she asked about who Martin Luther King was. In addition, his using warm and personal words such as “daddy”, a lot of positive-loaded adjectives and being very describing. For example when it says “…and reading the quotes on the wall together as the water falls like rain.” which is a situation everyone can imagine and dream up. In the speech Obama is using many of the same rhetorical devices as Martin Luther King Jr. did. Obama makes use of repetitions, which Luther did in his speech “I Have A Dream”. Obama says “I imagine us walking down to this….” and ”I picture us walking beneath…”. This strengthens the message and creates a sense of community. He compares what Martin Luther did with Moses’ acts, which are an allusion and a reference that is already loaded with built-in emotion. “Like Moses before him, he would never live to see the Promised Land”.
By using antithesis he is drawing our attention to different ways of seeing life “…a land in which strength is defined not simply by the capacity to wage war but by the determination to forge peace”. Through the use of these similar rhetorical instruments as Martin Luther King used, Obama establishes a direct line between Martin Luther King and himself in the struggle for freedom and equality of opportunity in America. Overall, the speech is a beautiful tribute in honor of Martin Luther King and his epochal operations – a tribute that reminds the American population of a leader who stood up against inequality and segregation.