Reading into Lyndon B. Johnson

To start, I had heard of content analysis before and I was not excited by the word “analysis,” which to me meant work. However, I found that this process of examining text was actually fairly interesting, though it was still some work in terms of dissecting possible meanings from objective aspects of the text.

I conducted a content analysis of Lyndon B. Johnson’s “Let us Continue” speech. My initial analyses and minimal knowledge of this speech or its content led me to a number of ideas about what the speech was saying and its purpose.

First, I created a word cloud using Voyant. After the initial word cloud was formed using all the words from the text, I refined the cloud and got rid of commonly used words such as “the,” “and,” “of,” and “to” in order to analyze the meat of the speech. I found that the more frequently used words and consequently the biggest words in the cloud were “we” and “our”, and other bigger words were “strong,” “action,” “government,” “now,” and “America”. Without ever reading or hearing the speech, I assumed this speech (like most presidential speeches) addressed the nation and was used to instill strength in a time of adversity. The larger words in the cloud seem aimed to provoke action from America and to be strong for the greater good of the country. However, after I analyzed the word cloud I was still unsure of why Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ) was requesting action from the American people or what event inspired this call to address the nation.

Word Cloud created from Voyant

Next, I used another Voyant tool and analyzed the links between the words of the speech. I analyzed commonly used words that I saw in the word cloud and created a web of links that connected words frequently used near each other. From looking at the web, I found that “we” was most often connected to “can,” “will,” “peace,” and “john”. I inferred that the speech was used to highlight the potential that Americans have to overcome difficult times and that John F. Kennedy (JFK) was an important part of the speech. Another link on the web connected John and Kennedy and on the word cloud John and Kennedy are also represented, though smaller in size, no other names appear as prominently. Other interesting links on the web connect the words “America” and “Americans” to a number of different words that represent solidarity and focus on the future (“united,” “one,” “all,” “forward,” and “forward-looking.”) The web of links led me to believe the purpose of the speech was to unify and inspire the nation in some way from the effects of John F. Kennedy.

My final analyses of “Let Us Continue” was a tool from Voyant used to find trends based off the location of words in the speech. I analyzed the use of “we,” “our,” and “Americans” and found that all these words were used frequently throughout the speech. The high rates in which these words are used seemed to signify a need to unite and remind those listening to the speech of their commonality in being Americans and thus instill national pride. I also looked at the trend of “action” and inferred that by using “action” more frequently towards the end of the speech LBJ’s goal was to inspire and lead Americans to take action against the adversity during that time. In contrast, “dream” was used more in the beginning of the speech and then not used in the middle or end. This may represent that the speech addressed a dream that Americans no longer strive to achieve or that something has happened to hinder the achievement of this dream.

Trend of frequency in location of speech
Frequency in location of “action”

I thought the dream may have something to do with John F. Kennedy and then analyzed the frequency in location of his name and “dream.” I found that although dream was used only in the beginning of the speech, “John” had spikes of use in the beginning, middle, and end. Thus, John is repeatedly brought up throughout the speech and the dream LBJ discusses may not be related to John F. Kennedy at all.

After my analyses of the speech, I read it through for the first time and was surprised to see that some of my predictions were true, however there was a lot that my analyses did not reveal.

First, arguably the most important detail of the entire speech was not found in content analyses (though it could have been inferred with further historical research). The purpose of the speech was to address the nation on the tragic assassination of John F. Kennedy. Though this idea was present throughout the text, it was not explicitly said in words except in the beginning and thus, it was not given significant attention in the analyses. Also, although I had an initial idea that the dreams and JFK were connected, the analyses did not support this idea since the two words were not mentioned in the same frequent locations. After reading the speech, I found that JFK and the dreams were actually extremely connected. Essentially, the speech was used to promote Americans to continue on to achieve the dreams that JFK had reached for. LBJ does inspire unity which was revealed through the content analyses and he called for the action of Americans to continue to aid JFK’s work and help those who are suffering from various forms of discrimination and oppression in America as well as other countries. LBJ also instructs Americans to be strong and take action to commemorate JFK, similar to the ideas found in content analyses.

Another important detail that the content analyses did not reveal was the significance of the play on words in the speech. JFK originally said “ let us begin” in reference to the national work that needed to be done in order to improve the American life. In response to JFK’s death, LBJ says “let us continue,” conveying the powerful message to carry on the work of JFK and also signify the need for the American people to overcome tragedy and strive onwards.

The powerful emotions conveyed by the speech are not represented in content analyses. The analyses solely examined patterns within in the text and disregarded the emotional weight of the words. However, reading the speech in whole allows one to consider the context of the time, the emotional significance, and the weight of this historic event. Content analyses allows an objective approach to examine text to make educated guesses about its content. But it is an extremely robotic way to probe text for its meanings and values which can only be revealed from reading it in its entirety. Overall, content analyses may be a good initial approach to undesrtand text but, reading a text helps reveal much more and can be more meaningful than examining patterns.