I’ve always felt inspired by Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. I used to chalk up my obsession with the small, two hundred fifty plus word speech because of my love of Lincoln and of the beautiful town.
However, I’ve decided to do what I would do with any piece of literature I wanted to study. I started looking at how the words were placed on the page. I looked at the Point of View Lincoln used in the address. I looked at the use of what’s familiar and what’s new in the speech to link the people in the speech.
First, I looked at the point of view. Lincoln used the first person plural in the speech. This was probably the most effective way to get the audience to feel a part of the speech and a part of the actions which predated the speech. Lincoln put the bystanders in the speech because they were part of the speech. The Civil War was their war; those lost soldiers were their lost brothers, husbands, friends, and sons. The dedication was not about Lincoln, but about the collective we and what was lost and gained on that land.
Secondly, I looked at the words on the page. For the most part, Lincoln has long complex sentences. However, when Lincoln begins talking about the “we” the sentence is split with a comma between each phrase as in this sentence, “But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground”. In addition to the commas, Lincoln used six syllables in the first, “we cannot” and seven in the last. Its effect was three quick claps and three bass drum claps at the end.
Lincoln used words which mirrored the war itself. For instance, Lincoln used words like, “struggle” and “devotion” which reflect what the people have been feeling about the war which was supposed to end quickly but three years later still raged on. Lincoln used the word, “dedicate” and “consecrate” at least twice. In a speech so small, it made the listener really understand the purpose of the dedication of the land.
Lastly, I looked at the things which bridged the things the audience was familiar with to the new insight. Lincoln started the speech using words from the Declaration of Independence and ended the speech with more words taken from the Declaration of Independence. It made sense Lincoln would take a document, a contract really, the forefathers made with the people of the time because Lincoln was also making a contract with his congregation. Lincoln was reminding the people what this country stood for and although this was a war and they were standing on the ground where months before many, many men lost their lives, there was hope these men didn’t die for a lost cause. These men were fighting for freedom just like the men in the American Revolution.
The speech was a small punch in the gut, reminding all who read and reads it, things may be horrific, but there is something larger we are fighting for.