Rhetorical devices

Rhetorical devices are language tools through which speakers make their message and arguments sound more appealing, while also capturing and maintaining the audience’s attention.

In what follows, we will give you some examples of the most common rhetorical devices in the speech and how they relate to the speaker’s intentions. The following is not a complete list, so you are always free to add more examples that you find in the sp…

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Allusions and direct references

As opposed to a direct reference, an allusion is an indirect, subtle reference to people, events, art or literature that is relevant to the topic of a given speech.

In the case of “I Am Prepared to Die”, the speaker prefers using direct references. This goes hand in hand with his use of open argumentation and his overall purpose of openly addressing accusations made against him.

For example, on various occasions the speaker mentions documents and legislation issued by the South African government to show the systematic oppression of non-white South Africans: “…the rights of the African people which had been seriously curtailed by the South Africa Act, and which were then being thr…

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Antithesis

 Most of the speech is constructed using contrasts and oppositions which are also called antithesis. This is because the speaker wants to reject the accusations brought against him by showing his side of the story. It is a contrast between what he is accused of and what he actually did.

Apart from these overall contrasts, you can also find some specific, concise examples of antithesis in the speech.

One such example is: “…were not, and are not, the soldiers of a black army pledged to fight a civil war against the whites. They were, and are, ded…

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Parallelism

Parallelism means using similar grammatical structures to make an idea stick with the audience. One example from the speech is “…a Government which uses force to maintain its rule teaches the oppressed to use force to oppose it.”. In this case the spe…

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Rhetorical questions

There are multiple instances when Nelson Mandela uses rhetorical questions in the speech. In some cases, their purpose is to help the audience relate to his situation: “What were we, the leaders of our people, to do? Were we to give in to the show of force and the implied threat against future action, or were we to fight it and, if so, how?”

In other cases, rhetorical questions are meant to emphasise an obvious idea and to make the audience reflec…

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