Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Speech Communication


In this study I examine the forms, contents, and functions of the rhetoric of singer-songwriter Harry Forster Chapin, in an attempt to more fully understand rhetorical theorist Kenneth Burke's assertion that his grandson was a uniquely powerful rhetorical figure who "could energize people, everyone, the world.". This study was conceived from the perspective of the "New Rhetoric," and therefore, it acknowledges that "identification" may serve as an "end" in itself. It is this willingness to accept "identification" as an "end" in itself that separates contemporary rhetorical theory from its classical counterpart. In my effort to remain faithful to Chapin's lyrics, I chose to use a computer-assisted content analysis of the lyrical texts. The use of a personal computer and commercially available programs demonstrated the practicability of such a critical "tool" for the rhetorical critic who elects to focus directly on the text of the message itself. My use of the computer provided a heightened awareness of Chapin's reliance on words which encouraged identification and a feeling of consubstantiality through Chapin's use of words clustering around orientations of "other" and the collective bonding of man. The balance of the dissertation focuses upon the rhetorical distinctiveness and rhetorical strategies demonstrated by Chapin's message. Three areas of rhetorical distinctiveness are explored: Chapin as a representative member of a folk-activist tradition; Chapin's development of a unique cinematic lyric style; and the ritualistic nature of the Chapin-message-audience interaction. Chapin's messages reflect two vital concerns: the common person should have an impact on social problems through a participatory democracy; and the importance of children as a source of truth and clear vision. Through his reliance on rhetorical strategies of identification, the act of overhearing speech acts, self-deprecation, repetition, and personalization of the future by his depiction of young people, Chapin coped with his rhetorical problems. These strategies allowed Chapin to provide potential avenues for change which were in keeping with the heritage and traditions of this country while addressing a generation that had grown increasingly cynical and frustrated in their efforts to promote change.