Rhetorical devices

Most speeches are constructed using various language techniques designed to capture the audience’s attention and make the speech appealing and captivating. Such language tricks are known as rhetorical devices. 

Barack Obama's “A More Perfect Union” mostly relies on rhetorical devices like allusion and enumeration. Other relevant rhetorical devices the speaker uses are analogy, direct address, figurative speech, parallelism, repetitions, and rhetorical questions.

Allusion

Barack Obama uses multiple allusions (references to past and present historical events, literature, etc.) to make associations with the topic of his speech.

For example, his speech starts with a contextual allusion. Because the speech is delivered in Philadelphia, where the Constitutional Convention was held and the US Constitution was signed in 1787, Barack Obama begins with a quotation from it: “ ‘We the people, in order to form a more perfect union ...’ ”(l. 3).

The speaker continues to make references to that historical moment, to remind the audience that the US Constitution was about the unity of the people: “Philadelphia convention that lasted through the spring of 1787.” (ll. 10-11).

Furthermore, he uses this historical allusion to emphasize the idea that although the US was founded based on ideals of unity and freedom, sometimes reality does not reflect them, particularly because African-Americans have a history of being discriminated against, first as slaves and then through segregation and racism. This helps him introduce the topic of race relations.

In another instance, he alludes to his book Dreams From My Father (l. 154) to make the audience understand his relationship with faith, the church he belongs to, and his reverend, in light of the pastor’s racial statements. By referring to his own writings, he also shows that he is a published author, adding to his credibility.

To show the audience that he ...

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