Study Guide

Blood, Toil, Tears, and Sweat Analysis

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  • Rhetoric


    The last paragraph of Churchill's speech is clearly a rousing appeal to the audience's emotion. You don't refer to "monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark and lamentable catalogue of human crime" (24) unless you're trying to evoke an emotional response.

    Okay, you could try to use something like that if you're going for logos, but then someone's going to ask to thumb through the "lamentable catalogue," and things could get weird.

    Even in the less exciting parts of Churchill's speech, he uses the dramatic situation of the war as the backdrop for his drier parliamentary business. For example, when he talks about having to make a war cabinet just about overnight, he says, it "has been formed of five Members, representing, with the Opposition Liberals, the unity of the nation…It was necessary that this should be done in one single day, on account of the extreme urgency and rigor of events" (5, 8).

    Remember that Churchill isn't just addressing his colleagues as their boss for the first time; he's telling them about major changes in their leadership that have happened very suddenly and quickly. A lot of them were still loyal to Neville Chamberlain, so throwing in some gentle reminders about the clear and present danger would give the audience some perspective.

    Then there's the end of the speech, whose purpose is to get people amped up and ready to wage them some war.


    Churchill was already a colorful and well-known figure in British politics who'd held lots of roles in government and the Navy. He didn't have to spend any time introducing himself. But because his ascension to Prime Minister wasn't completely without controversy, he definitely had to establish the legitimacy of his new government.

    He starts right off by describing the War Cabinet he's appointed and how it represents all parties in Parliament. He asks for understanding about why this had to be done so quickly, and projects a generally confident and collaborative attitude. He knew he had to get everyone on board with the new government, and he lets the MPs know that he thought it was important to have this meeting right away so they could get up to speed on all the changes. He's not trying to establish his own credibility so much as the credibility of the new government he's formed.

    So right off the bat he's showing the MPs some serious R-E-S-P-E-C-T, and what better way to have them take Churchill seriously.

  • Structure


    Unlike some other political speeches, this one's short and sweet. The man had places to go and things to do. You know, like fight the Nazis and save civilization.

    Churchill was famous for his writing long before he gave this speech. And in the first four months of being Prime Minister, he gave a bunch of speeches with some very memorable lines:

    • "We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets" (June 4, 1940). 
    • "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few" (August 20, 1940). 
    • "Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, "'This was their finest hour'" (June 18, 1940).

    You get the picture: guy knew how to talk.

    In the "Blood, Toil, Tears, and Sweat" speech, he uses different styles to convey the different purposes of his speech. For example, the stiffer, less exciting opening paragraphs have the utilitarian purpose of talking to Parliament about some serious government business; and later, he moves on with some more dramatic language to whip up enthusiasm for the fight ahead.

    How it Breaks Down

    New Kids on the Block

    To start off his speech, Churchill outlines what has happened in his brand-new government over the past few days. He describes the appointment of a new cabinet, and what's left to do to form his new government.

    Getting Down to Business

    Basically Churchill just talks about how he called Parliament to session to formalize the new government, and how it will be called again soon.

    People Get Ready

    Churchill transitions into much more direct talk about the war that Britain's already fighting. He briefly discusses its impact on political proceedings, and firmly declares the need for Britain to prepare itself for the coming conflict.

    War Will Be Hell

    The final paragraph of the speech involves Churchill waxing eloquently about the danger of the coming war, the monstrous evil of the Nazi regime, and how it threatens Great Britain. He promises his own BTTS toward fighting the war and saving the world from tyranny. He outlines his vision of Great Britain's approach, which is to be victorious and survive no matter what it takes.

  • Tone

    Professional, Motivational

    Churchill spends the first half of his speech dropping information, so he keeps things pretty straightforward and logical. Even in the moments when he gets a little more dramatic, he sticks to the business at hand.

    For example, check out when he explains why he created his war cabinet so quickly: "It was necessary that this should be done in one single day, on account of the extreme urgency and rigor of events" (8). Or even the opening line: "On Friday evening last I received His Majesty's commission to form a new Administration" (2). These both address pretty momentous subjects—Churchill's promotion to prime minister and facing war—but Churchill doesn't let emotion get in the way of providing needed information to his colleagues.

    Then, when he's gotten through his business, Churchill turns up the drama to 11. He uses more dramatic language and less structured syntax to create emphasis and emotion. He's trying to not only drive home the seriousness of Britain's situation, but also to inspire Parliament to do what's necessary. It's like the last scene in any great sports movie, where the coach makes a moving speech and they come from behind the big game.

    Except in this case the big game is total war, and winning means not getting conquered by an oppressive fascist empire led by a raving lunatic.

    Churchill's motivational tone is particularly noticeable in lines like this one: "You ask, what is our policy? I will say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark and lamentable catalogue of human crime" (23-24).

    It's a lot easier to feel motivated to "wage war" when you'd be fighting "monstrous tyranny," isn't it? As opposed to fighting a country that's just talking trash about you…or some fluffy bunnies.

    No one ever wants to fight fluffy bunnies.

  • Writing Style

    Straightforward, Passionate

    Churchill's style changes from the first half of the speech to the second.

    During the first half, he's conveying information to his colleagues and keeps his style very straightforward, without a lot of descriptive embellishment. He just explains what's happened. Later, he shifts to a style that is more engaging and passionate, but less, uh, grammatically precise.

    At first, Churchill refrains from a lot of adjectives or creative syntax. Take these lines: "A War Cabinet has been formed of five Members, representing, with the Opposition Liberals, the unity of the nation […] The three Fighting Services have been filled. It was necessary that this should be done in one single day, on account of the extreme urgency and rigor of events." (5, 7-8) He's conveying a lot of information about a big change in government, but he pretty much just lays it out. Nothing fancy.

    Later, though, once he's gotten through all his parliamentary announcements, he lets loose. Of course, he famously offers up his "blood, toil, tears, and sweat" line (20), which isn't something you generally do unless you're passionate about the outcome. Let's put it this way: you wouldn't say something like that to the guy at the DMV—unless you're having a really tough time renewing your registration.

    Another example: "You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival" (26-27). His sentences become short, choppy, and repetitive, and his language gets more dramatic.

    Why? Because now he's appealing to his audience's emotions. Words like "terror" and "survival" contain a lot more passion than "urgency." Unless…no, there's pretty much no situation where that's not the case.

  • What's Up With the Title?

    Like many speeches, Churchill's is named for a memorable phrase he utters during the speech. Since most speeches aren't given formal titles by the author, the famous ones are known either by something descriptive ("The Gettysburg Address") or by some sentence that really jumps out ("I Have a Dream").

    In this one, the title comes from the following line:

    I would say to the House, as I said to those who have joined this government: "I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat" (20)

    He's been discussing the wartime transition to his new administration, which has been a bit more rushed and has had a "lack of ceremony" (19) compared to other government transitions.

    Churchill wants his audience to know that he's prepared to devote himself 110% to the difficult fight ahead. At a moment where things had changed really quickly for the government, with war imminent, the new prime minister wanted his now-subordinates to know that he was willing to pour his whole self into solving the crisis. Maybe he didn't have a magic wand to fix things, but he was there to work as hard as anyone else in that room.

    Plus, if the boss is going to put in all those bodily fluids, the rest of them have to kind of step up their game, dontchathink?

  • What's Up With the Opening Lines?

    Churchill opens his speech to Parliament by explaining what's happened over the past couple days:

    On Friday evening last I received His Majesty's commission to form a new Administration. It as the evident wish and will of Parliament and the nation that this should be conceived on the broadest possible basis and that it should include all parties, both those who supported the late Government and also the parties of the Opposition. I have completed the most important part of this task. A War Cabinet has been formed of five Members, representing, with the Opposition Liberals, the unity of the nation. (2-5)

    There are several important pieces of information here:

    (1) The day Churchill was asked to be prime minister, replacing Neville Chamberlain, he put together his main cabinet of five members. Yes, the same day. The man wasn't wasting any time—there was a war on, after all.

    (2) The cabinet he assembled to govern through the war is made up of men from different parties.

    That shows that he's serious about creating a government that truly represents the people of the nation at this crucial time, when they'll have to make decisions that could impact the country in ways far beyond whether or not to raise taxes. Churchill's demonstrating that he's not in this for political power or gain, but to lead the entire country and be inclusive about it.

    The opening lines aren't the riveting poetry that comes later in the speech, but they'd grab the attention of Parliament and calm everyone down. It's not like the MPs didn't know that Churchill had been made prime minister, but there was so much going on at the time, so who knows how well-informed they were about the state of the administration.

  • What's Up With the Closing Lines?

    Churchill ends his speech on an upbeat note:

    But I take up my task with buoyancy and hope. I feel sure that our cause will not be suffered to fail among men. At this time I feel entitled to claim the aid of all, and I say, "come then, let us go forward together with our united strength." (29-31)

    He's spent the last few minutes emphasizing (a) the danger of the war to come, and (b) that Britain really, really has to win, or else they'll lose everything and civilization as we know it will be toast. That's mildly terrifying, especially for folks who remember the horror of World War I. Churchill goes on about the need for "victory at all costs" (27) because for the past few years everyone had been trying to appease Hitler. Now it was time to fight.

    Yet at both the beginning and the end of the speech, Churchill emphasizes the unity of the country. People always feel safer charging into danger when they aren't doing it alone. Churchill's also demonstrating that he's not going to pull a Hitler and just take power for himself in order to fight.

    Plus Churchill throws in some "don't worry, we've got this" lingo to give his listeners some much-needed confidence. Britain wasn't really militarily prepared for the upcoming battle (which the MPs would have well known), but Churchill makes sure to end his first speech to them on this optimistic note. It's the last thing they hear, which is always the easiest thing to remember.

    Keep that in mind when you write your next speech to an important legislative political body.

  • Tough-o-Meter

    (4) Base Camp

    The "Blood, Toil, Tears, and Sweat" speech is short and sweet. Well, maybe not so sweet, but it's short, at least.

    Churchill is a brilliant man speaking to other highly educated men, so he uses some fancy syntax when something simpler would have worked. But the biggest difficulty will be understanding the political context, like how Parliament works and how the British government is formed. Churchill didn't need to provide that info given who his audience was (Parliament), but the reader needs to understand it to really grok the first half of the speech.

  • Shout-Outs

    In-Text References

    Historical References

    • Churchill's appointment of Neville Chamberlain, Clement Atlee, Arthur Greenwood, and Lord Halifax to his initial war cabinet the day he became prime minister (2-5)
    • The Nazi invasion of Norway in April 1940 (17)
    • The Nazi invasion of the Netherlands and western Europe in May 1940 (17)
    • The British Empire (28)

    Political References

    • King George VI (2)
    • Creating a coalition government from multiple political parties (3-4)
    • Parliamentary procedure (12-16, 18-19)
    • Democracy vs. Fascism (24)

    References to This Text

    Literary References

    • John Lukacs, Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat: The Dire Warning; There are many, many, many books out there about Churchill and World War II. But this one focuses on this particular moment.
    • Geoff Loftus, "How To Lead With Blood, Toil, Tears, And Sweat," Forbes (September 10, 2014); This writer uses Churchill as an example of how to be a good leader in modern, non-military situations. Piece of cake compared to WWII.

    Media References

    • The New York Times, "The International Situation: The War in the Low Countries" (May 14, 1940)
    • The New York Times, "The Massing Armies" (May 14, 1940)

    Pop Culture References

    • The Gathering Storm (1974); There are a lot of movies featuring Winston Churchill, but this one ends with him (played by Richard Burton) delivering the "Blood, Toil, Tears, and Sweat" speech.

    Other References

    • D. Sudan, R. Sudan, D. Schafer, and A. Langnas, "Without victory there is no survival: transarterial lipiodol chemoembolization and hepatocellular carcinoma." What does a scientific paper about disease have to do with Winston Churchill? Nothing, but they use a quote from his speech in the title. So even if you don't understand any of the rest of the words, you know they're serious.
  • Trivia

    Someone recently discovered that Winston Churchill believed in aliens, but in the most scientifically logical way possible. Because, of course, on top of everything, he was pretty knowledgeable about astrophysics. (Source)

    Churchill's one-liner quotes are so popular that people often just make them up. Which is helpful for the mis-quoters in some ways, since most of his published work is trademarked by his estate. (Source)

    If you're ever in London, you can visit Churchill's wartime bunker, an underground system of rooms where he and his war cabinet strategized about how to win the war. They are known as—surprise—the Cabinet War Rooms. They were in use all day every day from the start of the war to August 6, 1945, when the lights in the famous Map Room were turned off for the first time in six years. And yes, they sell "Blood, Toil, Tears, and Sweat" mugs. (Source)

    Everyone talks about Hitler's failed art career, but most don't know about Churchill's painting hobby. He started late, but painted over 500 paintings in about 48 years. You can see some of them here. (Source)

    Churchill liked to fuel rumors that he was an enthusiastic consumer of all kinds of alcohol. He definitely enjoyed drinking, but none of his colleagues ever saw him so inebriated that he couldn't function. He and FDR were famous drinking buddies when Churchill visited the U.S. Legend had it that Winston learned to drink when, posted to India and South Africa as a young man, he took to mixing some whiskey with the water just to kill any possible contamination. Try telling that to your parents. (Source)

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