Rhetorical Analysis of the Gettysburg Address

To refresh your memory on the uses of rhetorical analysis and rhetorical devices, consider one of the greatest speeches in American history: the dedication of the Gettysburg Cemetery by President Abraham Lincoln, on March 4, 1965.

Image of President Abraham Lincoln delivering Gettysburg Address.

This short but powerful text consists of less than 250 words in 10 sentences. Lincoln expertly draws the audience into the purpose of the message – preservation of the nation and its founding ideals – through rhetorical devices such as repetition and emotional appeals (pathos).

A Close Reading of the Gettysburg Address

Read the 10 sentences of the Gettysburg Address and note the annotation markups of the text. This is an example of close reading strategies you should use when critiquing a text:

Gettysburg Address

The Rhetorical Situation

Next, to fully comprehend the meaning of the speech, a reader must understand the "rhetorical situation." The term refers to the context of the event that consists of the writer/speaker (rhetor), the subject (purpose), and the audience. Using Aristotle's rhetorical triangle, the following diagram lays out the components for analyzing the rhetorical situation:

Rhetorical Triangle


Understanding the rhetorical situation often requires research. The Internet provides access to search engines and resource collections. Be sure to select reliable and trustworthy sources from universities, libraries, and government.

For example, to research the historical, cultural, and social times of the Gettysburg Address, search the terms "Gettysburg Address" in The Library of Congress or the Internet Archive. Text, audio, video files and entire collections are returned.

Perhaps your search uncovered this special exhibition at the Library of Congress:

Rhetorical Terms

As you complete this assignment, be sure to note features of argumentation and rhetorical devices in your writing. The following glossary provides a list of key rhetorical terms you should already be familiar with: