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Neo-Aristotelian Rhetorical Analysis Essay

This week we were given the task to choose a speech that which we will analyze and ultimately write our first Critical Essay about in the coming week. The speech I chose was given by Jimmy Valvano in 1993 at the ESPY Awards. Jimmy Valvano was a college basketball player, coach, and broadcaster. He began his coaching career fresh out of college in 1967 at Rutgers followed by stints at Johns Hopkins, Connecticut, Bucknell, Iona, and ending his coaching career as head coach of NC State University. In June of 1992 Jimmy Valvano, also known as Jimmy V, was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Doctors told him he would be lucky to live a year.

On March 4, 1993, Jimmy V was presented with the inaugural Arthur Ashe Courage and Humanitarian Award of the first ever ESPY Awards hosted by ESPN. The Arthur Ashe Award is the highest honor for those involved in the world of athletics. The award is given to those who display courage and strength, and use their fame to advocated for human rights in some form.

I first heard this speech in a sports marketing class as a freshmen in high school. I think both the style and topics stuck with me all these years. Valvano’s speech moved me because he spoke passionately and straight from his heart. Today we see speeches all the time from celebrities, average adults, and even children who are battling cancer, but usually it’s for a charity and trying to convince you to give them money for research. Jimmy V told the audience that his time was precious, so he did three things everyday; laugh, think, and let his emotions move him to tears. As he spoke from his heart he was also able to crack jokes about moments in his career and times with good friends.

Even though the speech started out as an acceptance speech, it ended with a life lesson to everyone, as well as an announcement by Jimmy V and ESPN. With help from ESPN, Jimmy V founded  The V Foundation for Cancer Research. Their motto being, “Don’t give up, don’t ever give up.”

It was evident that he knew he was dying, and because he knew that he lived every single day to the fullest. His speech was funny, heartfelt, emphatic, and poetic. I think another thing that stuck with me was how well-spoken he was that night. When he spoke people listened, making his speech very powerful.

What is Neo-Aristotelian Method of Rhetorical Criticism?

Neo-Aristotelian is one of the original methods of rhetorical criticism; named after Aristotle, it is also known as neo-classical or traditional criticism. As may be inferred from these names, when you analyze an artifact (artifacts can be anything from political speeches to advertisements to novels to public service announcements) using this method, you consider traditional rhetorical concepts, as originally posed by Aristotle—context, the five canons, and the effects. Your ultimate goal is to learn about how the context and construction of a document or speech affected the audience for whom it was created.

Review the graphic here or read the larger text below to learn how to conduct a neo-Aristotelian analysis.


  • RHETOR | Determine who created the artifact you’re evaluating. Don’t focus entirely on their personal biography, per se, but reach further to learn about the political and environmental climate that motivated them. Consider their reasons for creating this artifact, their experience and training in doing so, and other key elements as defined by the rhetor themselves.
  • OCCASION | Evaluate the occasion in which the rhetor produced the artifact. What was the time or season? What was the historical context? Consider the impetus behind creating the artifact: were they motivated by politics, environment, finances, family pressure, delusion, or something else? Understand the occasion in which the artifact was produced.
  • AUDIENCE | What do you know about the person or people to whom the rhetor was trying to communicate? What would persuade them? What do they care about? What were their feelings toward the rhetor at the time the artifact was produced?


Review the artifact with strict focus on how the artifact was created and how it was or is presented to the audience. See the five canons page for more explanation.

  • INVENTION | How was the artifact and argument built? Is its focus on logic, emotion, or credibility?
  • ARRANGEMENT | How is the artifact organized and arranged? What is the structure and does it work?
  • STYLE | What is the language and tone being used? Is it creative, dull, professional, avant-garde, or other?
  • MEMORY | Does the rhetor seem to be in control? Are they fully aware, knowledgeable, and capable?
  • DELIVERY | How was the artifact presented? Consider its visual appeal, confidence, quality, and so forth.


You, the critic, are in control of analyzing the effects. With a firm understanding of the rhetor, occasion, and audience, and after thoroughly reviewing the components of the artifact using the five canons, you can make assessments about how effective the artifact was or what effect(s) the artifact had on the audience. There is rarely, if ever, a single conclusion that can be made about how an artifact affected an audience, But you can look at the immediate and long term effects and trace them back to the components of the message as evaluated by the context and canons.

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