Pentadic Analysis of Edward Kennedy’s "Chappaquiddick Speech"

general article writing

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Writing Assignment 2

Contemporary Rhetoric:  Burke’s Dramatism

Pentadic Analysis of Edward Kennedy’s "Chappaquiddick Speech"

100 Points

Below is the text of the late Senator Edward Kennedy’s famous “Chappaquiddick Speech”. The Speech was broadcast nationally on July 25, 1969. For those of you not familiar with the incident, Edward (Ted) Kennedy was accused of leaving the scene of an accident where a young woman, Mary Jo Kopechne, died by drowning after a car driven by Kennedy overturned into a deep pond on Chappaquiddick Island (off Martha’s Vineyard). This is the speech where he explains what happened to the people of Massachusetts. 

Please read the speech and analyze it using Burke’s Pentad.  You may also listen to and/or watch the speech at http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/tedkennedychappaquiddick.htm.

NOTE:  If you choose to listen to or watch the speech, please note that the broadcast is incomplete.   You will have to read the first couple of paragraphs before you can hear him speaking.  Likewise, you will have to read the last couple of paragraphs, after the sound ends. 

Answer the following questions regarding Ted Kennedy’s Speech, and upload your answers to ELMS.

What is the act?

What is the scene?

Who is the agent?

What is the agency?

What is the purpose of the speech?  Remember that the answer to this question lies in Kennedy’s words.  What does he say is his reason for giving the speech?

Which element of the pentad stands out the most in this speech?

Where does Kennedy place the blame for the incident?

How did your view of Kennedy’s apology change from the first time you read/listen to/watched it to after you did the pentadic analysis?


Edward (Ted) Kennedy:  Chappaquiddick Speech

(Broadcast Nationally from Joseph P. Kennedy’s Home on July 25, 1969)

My fellow citizens:

I have requested this opportunity to talk to the people of Massachusetts about the tragedy which happened last Friday evening. This morning I entered a plea of guilty to the charge of leaving the scene of an accident. Prior to my appearance in court, it would have been improper for me to comment on these matters. But tonight I am free to tell you what happened and to say what it means to me.

On the weekend of July 18th, I was on Martha's Vineyard Island participating with my nephew, Joe Kennedy -- as for thirty years, my family has participated -- in the annual Edgartown Sailing Regatta. The only reasons for health prevented my wife from accompanying me.

On Chappaquiddick Island, off Martha's Vineyard, I attended, on Friday evening, July 18th, a cook-out I had encouraged and helped sponsor for a devoted group of Kennedy campaign secretaries. When I left the party, around 11:15 pm, I was accompanied by one of these girls, Miss Mary Jo Kopechne. Mary Jo was one of the most devoted members of the staff of Senator Robert Kennedy. She worked for him for four years and was broken up over his death. For this reason, and because she was such a gentle, kind, and idealistic person, all of us tried to help her feel that she still had a home with the Kennedy family.


There is no truth, no truth whatever, to the widely circulated suspicions of immoral conduct that have been leveled at my behavior and hers regarding that evening. There has never been a private relationship between us of any kind. I know of nothing in Mary Jo's conduct on that or any other occasion -- and the same is true of the other girls at that party -- that would lend any substance to such ugly speculation about their character. Nor was I driving under the influence of liquor.


Little over one mile away, the car that I was driving on an unlit road went off a narrow bridge that had no guard rails and was built on a left angle to the road. The car overturned in a deep pond and immediately filled with water. I remember thinking as the cold water rushed in around my head that I was for certain drowning. Then water entered my lungs and I actually felt the sensation of drowning. But somehow I struggled to the surface alive.


I made immediate and repeated efforts to save Mary Jo by diving into the strong and murky current but succeeded only in increasing my state of utter exhaustion and alarm. My conduct and conversations during the next several hours, to the extent that I can remember them, make no sense to me at all.

Although my doctors informed me that I suffered a cerebral concussion, as well as shock, I do not seek to escape responsibility for my actions by placing the blame either on the physical and emotional trauma brought on by the accident or on anyone else.

I regard as indefensible the fact that I did not report the accident to the police immediately.

Instead of looking directly for a telephone after lying exhausted in the grass for an undetermined time, I walked back to the cottage where the party was being held and requested the help of two friends, my cousin, Joseph Gargan and Phil Markham, and directed them to return immediately to the scene with me -- this was sometime after midnight -- in order to undertake a new effort to dive down and locate Miss Kopechne. Their strenuous efforts, undertaken at some risk to their own lives, also proved futile.


All kinds of scrambled thoughts -- all of them confused, some of them irrational, many of them which I cannot recall, and some of which I would not have seriously entertained under normal circumstances -- went through my mind during this period. They were reflected in the various inexplicable, inconsistent, and inconclusive things I said and did, including such questions as whether the girl might still be alive somewhere out of that immediate area, whether some awful curse did actually hang over all the Kennedys, whether there was some justifiable reason for me to doubt what had happened and to delay my report, whether somehow the awful weight of this incredible incident might in some way pass from my shoulders. I was overcome, I'm frank to say, by a jumble of emotions: grief, fear, doubt, exhaustion, panic, confusion, and shock.


Instructing Gargan and Markham not to alarm Mary Jo's friends that night, I had them take me to the ferry crossing. The ferry having shut down for the night, I suddenly jumped into the water and impulsively swam across, nearly drowning once again in the effort, and returned to my hotel about 2:00am -- and collapsed in my room. I remember going out at one point and saying something to the room clerk.

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