Abstract

Winston Churchill is commonly considered to have written some of the greatest speeches of the twentieth century, yet few of them have been analyzed in any depth. This essay attempts to examine in detail one of the most famous and, indeed, most important of these speeches, the “we shall fight” oration, given in the House of Commons on June 4, 1940, at the end of the evacuation of British and French troops from Dunkirk. It considers the differing audiences that Churchill was writing for and the message he was attempting to give to each. It also studies the different levels that the prime minister sees to the conflict: the concrete one in which he describes the actual combat and the abstract one in which Good battles Evil on a cosmic stage. On the first level, Dunkirk is a disaster that cannot be denied or hidden from the British people. On the second, however, it is a victory—a moral one only but one that has its own importance for Churchill. The context of the time is also examined. In particular, the famous last paragraph is given an in-depth analysis that leads to some rather surprising results.

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