Running head: CLUSTER CRITICISM
Cluster criticism is a kind of rhetorical criticism which usually focuses on examining and
scrutinizing the messages that have been conveyed through speeches or theatres and identifying
how performance usually contributes to the manner in which these messages are created
(Schrader, 2016). Cluster criticism helps in enabling people to find the emerging elements or
themes in a message and then assists the individual in constructing meaning in a message
through using this clusters or themes. We will focus on using Foss’s theory and methods of
cluster criticism to conduct an analysis of the speech given by President Trump on 9th September
2017 which mainly focused on commemorating the attacks that took place in America.
Summary of the speech by President Trump
The commemoration ceremony of the September 11, 2001, attack, took place this year in
The Pentagon, Virginia, where President Trump was present. He gave a speech which was
mainly focused on reminding Americans of the heroes and innocent Americans that died during
those attacks. His speech mainly talked about the unity of Americans where he specified that the
attackers thought that they had incited fear among Americans, while on the contrary, it made the
Americans to be more united. He offered his condolences to the people who lost loved ones
during those attacks but was able to show that Americans have become stronger since those
attacks. He further showed that the attacks increased patriotism among Americans where they
have registered a high number of young citizens who enrolled in the military.
Summary of the theory by Foss
Sonja Foss developed a theory on cluster criticism where he offered his views on this
particular issue through presenting different methods and techniques which individuals need to
use when they decide to analyze a message. The theory of cluster criticism by Foss is very much
of assistance as it tries to show how the attitudes of writers about controversial matters usually
assist in shaping persuasive and convincing rhetorical strategies. Foss provides three methods in
his theory which he thinks people need to adopt when they are performing a cluster criticism of
speeches or messages which are, identify key terms, the creation of clusters and comparing and
examining clusters. These were the methods that were adopted in analyzing and performing a
cluster criticism of the speech by President Trump on September 11, 2017.
Explanation of how the theory of Foss is adopted in President Trump’s speech
The three methods presented by Foss in his theory have helped in analyzing and
performing a cluster criticism on this particular speech of President Trump. The first method is
identifying key terms is a speech or message. In the president’s speech on commemorating the
attacks, there are several key terms that can be identified. One key term is remembering the
families who lost people in those attacks (Foss, 2017). This is because the president kept on
mentioning them while giving his speech. Another key term in the speech was unity where the
president would regularly mention that Americans are united and have become stronger. Hence,
the key terms in this speech are unity and patriotism.
The second method is creating clusters from the associated elements. This is where the
critics usually identify the elements in a speech or message that surround or are associated with
the key terms in the speech. In the speech, the surrounding elements on unity are situations
where the president says that the terrorists opened the eyes of the citizens as it made them come
together with a renewed purpose. Also, when the president states that America cannot be broken
by any force because Americans are united, shows that it refers to unity. On the key term of
patriotism, the surrounding elements are where the president states that more than 5million
youths have joined the army to help protect the country. He also states that more than 7,000
servicemen are fighting terrorists across the globe so that America may be safe.
The third method of cluster criticism is comparing and examining clusters. This is where
a critic usually examines how the specific clusters are representing the key terms (Clair, Carlo
Lam, Nussman, Phillips, Sánchez and Yakova, 2014). In this particular speech, the president
states that more than 5million youths have enrolled in the military which can be said to represent
patriotism because they want to ensure that no other attack can take place. However, this specific
element can also be used to explain that Americans are united to protect their country and that’s
why they decide to enroll in the military. Therefore, the element representing the key term of
patriotism can also be compared with the other elements that represent the key term of unity.
Evaluation of the analysis
Using the speech of President Trump on the commemoration ceremony of the September
11 attack to show the adoption of the cluster criticism theory of Sonja Foss, can help people
understand how the methods and techniques that have been presented in this theory. Through
breaking down this particular speech, the reader can also identify the key terms that are present
in the speech. The reader can also have the opportunity to create clusters when they consider the
elements that are surrounding the key terms. Lastly, they may also have the opportunity to see
how the elements are examined and can also be compared in relation to the key terms. Form
using the theory, one can see that president Trump in a way is trying to show how the attack was
significant as it increased the unity and patriotism of Americans.
The theory of Foss on cluster criticism clearly shows the steps that a critic needs to
follow when they are trying to perform a cluster criticism on a speech. He has been able to
indicate the three methods that they need to adopt so that they may successfully analyze a speech
or message. However, the theory only applies to public speeches and therefore, cluster criticism
cannot be applied in movies or films.
Clair, R. P., Carlo, S., Lam, C., Nussman, J., Phillips, C., Sánchez, V., ... & Yakova, L. (2014).
Narrative theory and criticism: An overview toward clusters and empathy. Review of
Communication, 14(1), 1-18.
Foss, S. K. (2017). Rhetorical criticism: Exploration and practice. Waveland Press.
Schrader, V. L. (2016). Analyzing a Performative Text through Cluster Criticism: Hegemony in
the Musical Wicked as a Case Study. KB Journal, 11(2).
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