Rhetorical devices


Allusion and direct references

Joe Biden begins his speech at the 2020 Democratic National Convention with a reference to Ella Baker, an African-American civil rights activist: “Ella Baker, a giant of the civil rights movement, left us with this wisdom: Give people light and they will find a way”. Biden’s choice to begin his speech with this reference is appropriate, as a large part of his speech tackles the issue of racism in the US. The reference to Ella Baker is meant to inspire African Americans to stand up for their rights.

In this light, the allusion to George Floyd seems like a natural choice. When he talks about “the injustice of the ‘knee on the neck’ ”, Biden’s purpose is twofold. First, he wants to remind the audience of the racism that led to George Floyd being killed by a white police officer who literally pressed his knee to Floyd’s neck. Secondly, Biden’s purpose is to highlight the fact that Floyd’s death is not an isolated event and that racism is an important issue that needs to be dealt with. 

Biden also references John Lewis, a black American politician and civil rights activist: “… America is ready to in John's words, to lay down ‘the heavy burdens of hate at last’ and to do the hard work of rooting out our systemic racism”. The reference is meant to honor Lewis, who died one month before the Democratic National Convention. Lewis’ words come from an essay which was written shortly before his death.

Biden also makes an important reference to Trump’s speech after the Charlottesville events, in which Trump failed to denounce white supremacists and neo-Nazis. Moreover, when asked to blame neo-Nazis, Trump claimed that there were “very fine people on both sides”. According to Biden, Trump’s words were “a wake-up call for us as a country”.


Biden offers some personal anecdotes which make him appear friendly and more approachable. First, he talks about his father’s wisdom: 

You know, my Dad was an honorable, decent man. He got knocked down a few times pretty hard, but...

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