"A time of shame and sorrow": Robert F. Kennedy and the American jeremiad

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Robert F. Kennedy’s response to the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. offers the opportunity to examine the rhetorical function of the modern American jeremiad. This essay argues that, while the jeremiad works well in the epideictic task of restoring social harmony in a time of crisis, it also operates as a rhetoric of social control. It precludes a close examination of the system that may well have created the crisis. Kennedy’s rhetoric was a skillful reaction to his immediate rhetorical and political obstacles, but it illustrates the generic limitations of the American jeremiad as a vehicle for social criticism.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)401-414
Number of pages14
JournalQuarterly Journal of Speech
Issue number4
StatePublished - Nov 1990
Externally publishedYes


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Communication

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