A Rhetorical Criticism and Analysis of President Ronald Reagan's Inaugural Address: Applying the Burkeian Dramatistic Pentad Approach
Master of Arts (MA)
Semester of Degree Completion
Floyd E. Merritt
It is no accident that Ronald Reagan rose to the pinnacle of power at a moment when there was a rising wave of intellectual pessimism. Numerous theories were being offered as to why the trajectory of the American experiment has passed its apogee. Reagan's greatest gift to his country has been his soaring sense of possibilities. To see where he got it, look at what he has seen in a long life. However, a great communicator will communicate complicated ideas, hard choices and bad news. Reagan has had little aptitude and less appetite for those tasks. But, then, communication is not really Reagan's forte. Rhetoric is. Rhetoric has been central to Reagan's presidency because Reagan has intended his statecraft to be soulcraft. Hi aim has been to restore the plain language of right and wrong, good and evil, for the purpose of enabling the people to make the most of freedom. For all his deplorable inattentiveness regarding many aspects of his office, he has been assiduous about nurturing a finer civic culture, as he understands it. Here, then, is the crowning paradox of Reagan's career. For all his disparagement of government, he has given it the highest possible purpose, the improvement of the soul of the nation. This paper investigates Ronald Reagan's First Inaugural Address by applying the Burkeian Dramatistic Pentad Approach. In the course of investigation, this paper utilizes the Burkeian Concept of Identification and dramatistic pentad. By employlng these methods, it is believed strongly that a thorough analysis of the rhetorical effort would provide the critic with a more comprehensive understanding of the real motives and motivations of the speaker. The Burkeian approach to rhetorical analysis leads the critic in a unique direction. Rather than asking oneself how the speaker attempted persuasion, the Burkeian critic asks how the pentad functioned in the pursuit for identification. Identification is the process by which the speaker binds himself with the audience "consubstantially", a super-identification of the audience with the actor or orator in which listeners suspend their sense of individuality and perceive the speaker as a projection of themselves as a group. Reagan (agent) sought to establish identification through various means (AGENCIES) such as rhetorical questions, statistics, and narratives. Beyond these verbal agencies, physical trappings aided in setting the proper atmosphere (scene) for speaker-audience identification. The speech (act) dealt with Reagan's desire to get the American public to support all his proposed plans. His goals (purposes) were to appeal to the American public, to promote social cohesion, and to reinforce audience commitment. He had relied upon many rhetorical strategies. He used first person plural pronouns, strong admonitions, personal, patriotic, and fear appeals. Reagan also employed echos and paraphrases by past famous presidents to produce a sense of realism as to the amount of time and effort needed to solve America's problems. Many uniting phrases, such as "all must share," "all of us together," are used. More importantly, he deployed the spirit of solidarity by siding with the people against the common enemy, the government. The Inaugural Address centered on the theme of the capacity of ordinary people performing extraordinary feats. Throughout his four hundred and forty four speeches delivered during his presidency, Reagan dependedfon positive populism - a set of appeals that emphasize the quiet strengths of the common people, and indirectly to the commonness of the leader (Reagan). Reagan traded on the notion, inherent to populist discourse, that when you compliment people a lot, they cannot help liking you for it. Reagan was simply a master of the populist anecdote. His ability to express the essence of ordinary life in endearing and reassuring images, and at the same time associating himself with them via his personal life history, contributed significantly to his avuncular ethos. The author is confident beyond a shadow of reasonable doubt that Ronald Wilson Reagan will go down in history as being placed in the front rank of the second echelon of American presidents. The first echelon includes those who were pulled to greatness by the gravity of great crises. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were yanked by the perilous flux of the founding era. Abraham Lincoln was drawn by disunion and the need to define the nation's meaning. Theodore Roosevelt was hauled by the pressing need to tame the energies of industrialism. Woodrow Wilson by America's entry into the vortex of world affairs, Franklin Roosevelt by the Depression and the dictators, and John F. Kennedy by his tactful handling of the Cuban affairs, the Cold War, the Vietnam War, and the Civil Rights movement. Reagan is the last president for whom the Depression will have been a formative experience, the last president whose foremost model was the first modern president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Reagan, like Roosevelt, has been a great reassurer, a steadying captain who calmed the passengers and, to some extent, the unpredictable rough sea.
Johar Bachik, Marzuki Jamil Baki bin Haji Mohamed, "A Rhetorical Criticism and Analysis of President Ronald Reagan's Inaugural Address: Applying the Burkeian Dramatistic Pentad Approach" (1996). Masters Theses. 1929.
Social Influence and Political Communication Commons, Speech and Rhetorical Studies Commons