Magazine article USA TODAY

Camelot's Promise Revisited

Magazine article USA TODAY

Camelot's Promise Revisited

Article excerpt

FIFTY YEARS AGO, on Jan. 20, 1961, thousands of visitors converged on Washington, D.C., for the inauguration of our 35th president, John Fitzgerald Kennedy. A blizzard had struck the Eastern Seaboard that day. The streets of the capital were clogged with snow and stranded automobiles, but the inaugural ceremony went on, and the new president delivered one of the most memorable addresses in American history.

What makes Pres. Kennedy's speech so unforgettable is its striking use of parallel structure--the repetition of grammatical forms to emphasize similar ideas. Let us look at four brief excerpts from that famous inaugural address that exemplify the President's powerful use of parallelism:

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This special address begins with this clarion-call sentence: "We observe today not a victory of party but a celebration of freedom," immediately followed by the tandem participial phrases "symbolizing an end as well as a beginning, signifying renewal as well as change." The wonderfully echoic sounds of symbolizing and signifying enhance the parallel "as well as" prepositional phrases.

Two paragraphs later, Kennedy proclaims: "Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans, born in tiffs century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter trace, proud of our ancient heritage, and unwilling to permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.

"Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and success of liberty."

Here, Kennedy gathers momentum with two prepositional phrases, "From this time and place, to friend and foe alike," and then launches into five adjective phrases--"born ...", "tempered ...", "disciplined ...", "proud ...", and "and unwilling ...". The first four of these adjectives are modified by parallel prepositional phrases. The 81-word sentence ends with parallel adjective clauses ("to which this nation has always been committed and to which we are committed today") and prepositional phrases ("at home and around the world"). …

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