Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Speechmaking as Storytelling

I took a "Persuasion: Analyzing Political Texts" class in college. We examined some of the most infamous speeches made during times of crises and unrest, at times when our nation was at a tipping point, sometimes the direction still unknown.

Though most speeches we read, analyzed, deconstructed, and put back together were from presidents, there were a rare few from other public figures--people who were instrumental in shaping politics even if they weren't elected to a political seat because they were still serving their political promise, exercising their right to peacefully assemble, to protest, to speak.

And their words held just as much weight as a president's and just as much promise. What bound all these speakers together whether George W. Bush after September 11 or JFK's inaugural address or MLK's "I Have a Dream" speech is hope. Hope that tomorrow will be better than today and that the vision of this country isn't a mirage but a reality which we seek out and make true.

As writers--and readers--we often forget about the speech-maker but they are storytellers in their own right. Read a speech and it grounds you in time. Hear the powerful delivery and it's like a poetry reading, the words both beautiful and inspiring.

After the explosion of the Challenger, Ronald Reagan gave a speech that's long been tied to his legacy. From the Oval Office he reaffirmed his dedication to continue space exploration in honor of the seven Challenger victims. He said, "We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and 'slipped the surly bonds of earth' to 'touch the face of God."

I read words like this and there's nothing I can do but stop and re-read and admire. "Slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God." It combines imagery of space exploration with death and resurrection to heaven in one breadth. It reminds me of the Sistine Chapel, of man reaching out to touch the hand of God. It's both sad and hopeful. It's perfect.

Have any speeches re-defined the way you think of storytelling?

No comments:

Post a Comment