In this year’s Annual Writing Contest we are asking you to identify a main idea in a speech by President of Ireland Eamon de Valera and to analyze how he used rhetorical devices to develop the main idea. President de Valera’s radio address, delivered in 1943, is posted in a large font format on this web site along with the other contest materials. [PDF version of President de Valera's radio address - click here]
One of the first things we can assist you with is a translation of the last paragraph of de Valera’s text. The original language of the paragraph is Irish Gaelic; the translation has been provided by Professor Maureen Murphy of Hofstra University:
God bless you all and the work ahead of us. May God protect us and may we, as a nation, be always worthy of the gifts St. Patrick has given us. May the all powerful God who has brought us safety so far from the disaster and the misfortune that have happened to the other nations as a consequence of this war and shelter and protect us to the end and make us worthy to play a noble part in the new world of the future. (The war to which de Valera refers is World War II. Ireland was not involved in that war.)
In your essay you may want to analyze why the speaker used the Irish Gaelic in his address to the Irish nation. You should also know that Ireland’s native language is Irish Gaelic. English became the dominant language of Ireland over the hundreds of years during which England ruled Ireland. You should also know that when President of Ireland Eamon de Valera delivered his talk in 1943, Ireland had been an independent nation for little more than ten years.
Your textual analysis will require you to identify some of the rhetorical devices de Valera used to persuade his listeners to accept his vision of Ireland’s future as an independent nation. Rhetoric, as you have learned in class, is the art of persuasive communication, sometimes informally called the art of putting across a message.
Every textual analysis must take into account the listening audience. What did the speaker do to get and keep the audience’s attention? Some speakers appeal to the hearts of the listeners, referring to shared values, such as patriotism and religion. Other speakers appeal to the sense of reason with the use of facts or logic. What was de Valera’s appeal?
Very important in a speaker is that he should appear credible to the audience. How does de Valera project integrity, honesty and trustworthiness to the listeners? Look at de Valera’s choice of words and his decisions on sentence length. How do these choices help him to achieve the goal of persuading his audience to follow his leadership?
Text analysis must, of course, look at the text itself to recognize what the writer of the speech did to enliven his text and to provide aids to understanding. Below are some of the rhetorical devices, no doubt familiar to you, which de Valera might have used in his text:
Metaphor, Simile: Comparison intended to make something clear or to add color to the text. For example, Martin Luther King, Jr. used a banking metaphor to call the Emancipation Proclamation a “promissory note” upon which America has written a “bad check” which has been marked “insufficient funds.”
Parallelism: Use of grammatically similar words, phrases or clauses to achieve emphasis and to make the presentation memorably. For example, our government is said to be “of the people, by the people, for the people.” Winston Churchill told the English people when England was threatened by invasion, “We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight … in the air, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”
Antithesis: Like parallelism, this device repeats language with the purpose of calling attention to contrasts or opposites. In the opening lines of A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens writes: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times ….” John F. Kennedy, in his first inaugural address, told the American people, “Ask not what your country can do for, but ask what you can do for your country.”
There are other rhetorical devices, too, which you can research. But your essay should not be just a collection of rhetorical devices. You should emphasize one or more of the rhetorical devices used by de Valera, but more importantly yours will be an even better essay if it projects that you have engaged Eamon de Valera’s text as if you were a part of an attentive audience that understands de Valera’s main idea and appreciates how he added color to the text. Remember your essay will be 150 to 200 well chosen words.
The Regents Connection: Our contest this year is based upon the English Regents essay called the Text-Analysis Response Task. You can find the Regents’ presentation of this task very helpful. This resource is from the Regents Fall 2013 exam. See page 36 for the Text-Analysis Response material.
I hope these notes are of some help to you. Your teacher will give you even more valuable assistance. Every writer needs an editor, so use your friends and family as your preliminary audience. Contact me if you think I can help: firstname.lastname@example.org.