Rhetorical Strategies and Main Message in Reagan’s Challenger Speech

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Words: 708 |

Pages: 2|

4 min read

Published: Feb 9, 2022

Words: 708|Pages: 2|4 min read

Published: Feb 9, 2022

Ronald Reagan’s, Challenger Address is arguably one the best performances of the 40th president of United States. I will try to analyze the different aspects of the rhetorical situations in this essay. I will try to show how the occasion, events, and audience shape the speaker’s approach to organize the message. I will explain the significance of each element and how the speaker uses these things to relay a message that is appropriate.

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During an era of accelerated American leadership in innovation and technology, the accident of the Challenger on January 1986 was a shock to everyone in United States and around the world. “The space shuttle, had flown 24 times without harm to its crews since the first launch of the orbiter Columbia in April 1981”. There was an attitude of positive and hopeful advancement. This tragic incident came about unexpected and shocked the nation. Ronald Reagan does emphasize the occasion (i.e. exigence), by stating that “the events of earlier today have led me to change plans” referring to plans he made to deliver the state of the union. He builds his ethos to the audience by stating that this person is the President of the United States. The speaker is a unifying individual that leads the nation and has credibility among its citizens. He does well in emphasizing the uniqueness of the situation by saying “we’ve never lost an astronaut in flight; we’ve never had a tragedy like this” (Reagan, 1986). At the same time recognizing that the United States has well recorded safe flights.

After the incident there was sadness and a theme of national disappointment. Most Americans, from school children to adults were following the launch, since it was the first of its kind to have a regular school teacher on board. Ronald Reagan’s address needed to speak to the entire nation. His audience was the whole of United States. He needed to underline a sense of unity and send a message that they were all mourning together. He does this very well by using words like “we”, “us” showing the audience that they have the same feelings about the incident. He says “Nancy and I are pained” to emphasize that he personally is affected by this event as well. This enables him to create a connection with his audience, an identification technique that helps him create common bond with his listeners. He also says “We mourn their loss as a nation together” to emphasize unity and bond with his audience. He also adds on building his positive ethos by saying “We don’t keep secrets and cover things up. We do it all up front and in public” and this kind of statement sends a message that him and his administration is trustworthy.

The purpose of his message was to unify the country and acknowledge the event has caused a lot of sorrow to families of these astronauts, as well as Americans as a whole. The use of unifying language such as “we”, “us”, and “we are all” helps him accomplish his intention. At the time of the accident there were folks that were angry and wanted to figure out who to blame. He made sure at that moment everyone came together and attempted not to blame anyone at NASA. He said “And we know of your anguish, we share it” referring to the people that were involved in the project at NASA. “Speaking as if simultaneously to bereaved families and the nation at large, his words fitted” (The Times London, 1986) shows his effective delivery. In his speech, he presented himself as calm and soothing. Keeping into consideration that he was speaking to everyone including school children.

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His delivery was remarkably smooth, i.e. he didn’t show any signs of discomfort or signs of unease. He made sure to avoid hand gestures and motion that in any way could distract his message. He used simple language anyone could relate to and understand. He used language that made him look humbled and also sad about the disaster that struck. For example: he said “For the families of the seven, we cannot beat as you do, the full impact of this tragedy.” In conclusion, overall, he was very successful at relaying the proper message and with a measured delivery technique. 

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Rhetorical Strategies And Main Message In Reagan’s Challenger Speech. (2022, February 10). GradesFixer. Retrieved December 11, 2023, from
“Rhetorical Strategies And Main Message In Reagan’s Challenger Speech.” GradesFixer, 10 Feb. 2022,
Rhetorical Strategies And Main Message In Reagan’s Challenger Speech. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 11 Dec. 2023].
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