A Rhetoric Analysis of M. L. King Speech

In case of the speech of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “I Have a Dream,” rhetoric analysis entails understanding of King’s purpose and its effects on the ideals and perspectives of the American society. Based on this speech, the paper seeks to understand the goals and effects achieved by King during that monumental time. In order to affect the racially mixed audience emotionally and logically, in his speech, King employs the rhetorical appeal of ethos, pathos, and anaphora as effective tools to address burning social problems, such as issues of civil rights.

As pertaining to the above, the ethos refers to the King’s credibility, his character, and reputation in the American Civil Rights Movement. Martin Luther King Jr. had an ability to deliver his idea to the audience through ethos. In fact, he was a reputable and was considered a perfect moral leader. Referring to the audience as “my people,” King showed that he shared the same views with his people and, due to this fact, he was greatly respected. On 28 August 1963, in front of thousands of people, in front of the Lincoln Memorial, he delivered his well-known speech. The speech was given during One Million Man March to Washington that joined the calls for racism elimination, for Jobs, and for Freedom. Dr. King began his speech with the words, “One hundred years later, the Negro still is not free…” as a reference to the Emancipation Proclamation (1863) by Abraham Lincoln that had guaranteed freedom to two million slaves. He reacts emotionally to the issue with slavery emphasizing that, even after Abraham Lincoln’s efforts to guarantee the freedom of slaves, America has not changed completely and segregation is still obvious (Max 56).

Having departed from the originally prepared script, King presented his views using improvised expressions according to the main idea “I have a dream.” It was a prompt from another great activist, Mahalia Jackson, who had implored him to speak about the issue. Consequently, King managed to visualize his dreams concerning the future freedom and equality of all Americans in the United States, society free from any hatred and slavery. As a culmination of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, the speech created the perfect closing occasion for the mass demonstration, in support of the President J. F. Kennedy’s Civil Rights Legislation (Max 34).

Having preached personal aspirations for a number of years, King proved his care, commitment, and great enthusiasm in the promotion of “Equal Rights for All” in his speech during the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, titled The Negro and the American Dream. Pathos is invoked during the speech through such turning events in the America’s history as the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution, and the Emancipation Proclamation. These were the foundations of what he aspired, as he alluded to President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

The aim of Martin Luther King Jr. is to capture the minds of all Americans. That is why he uses one of the strongest rhetorical figures called anaphora. For instance, King (n.p.) repeats "We can never be satisfied," "Free at last," "With this faith," “One hundred years later,” “Now is the time!,” and "Let freedom ring" for several times. Saying “Now is the time!,” King urges his audience and every American to grasp the moment and act in support of President Kennedy’s legislation. In the sixth paragraph, he repeats this phrase for four times. The speech features eight points that draw the perspective of the future unified, and integrated American social setup.

Utility of anaphora, the repetition of the phrase “I Have a Dream” greatly emphasizes his claims that reveal his ideals of the future US. Dr. King expresses his dreams for several times in order to make people understand and remember that he has a big desire to live in the country, which proclaims the equality of all people. He clearly affirms that he wants everyone to live in peace and cooperate despite the fact that some of them are former slaveholders and others are former slaves. Besides, Dr. King’s dream reveals his passion; it is very strong and incentive.

Martin Luther King Jr. uses logos in his speech, as well. He talks about the police brutal treatment during the marches and demonstrations. His speech touches upon some vulnerable issues such as fair treatment of black people in public, and the matters concerning education, employment, and rights legislation. A perfect example of logos in King’s speech is in his assertion, “America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked ‘insufficient funds” (King n.p.). He uses logic in a form of reasoning, as everybody understands money and can imagine being given a bad check.

Arousing historical and literary mentions is a strong technique, which King also utilizes in his speech. He alludes to the Emancipation Proclamation, stating, “Five score years ago...” (King n.p.). It refers to Lincoln’s well-known Gettysburg Address speech, which had the same beginning. This allusion was given very poignantly, as King was speaking in front of the Lincoln Memorial. The Biblical allusion, “It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity” (King n.p.) provides the moral base for King’s arguments.

Through the speech, Dr. King was able to inspire, educate, and inform not only the audience present then, but also the rest of America, up to the future unborn generations. He has utilized the power, inspiration, and ability to transform the Lincoln Memorial Park into the monumental arena it is considered today. The symbolism of the speech’s location endeavored more to educate and inspire Americans as to the necessary succeeding steps to achieve full freedom and liberty. The ideals, espoused in the speech, have been a reflection of his social experiences of the mistreatment of fellow Blacks (Hansen 45).

Through the speech, King appeals to the ideal American society as a nation founded on the principles of justice and freedom for all transcending and reinforcing these two secular ideals through placing them within a spiritual context. He did it through his argument, suggesting that racial justice goes in accordance with God’s will. The speech is rhetorical; therefore, it produces a redemption avenue, through which American racial wrongdoings must be cleansed (Corbett 34).

In conclusion, Martin Luther King ingeniously and intelligibly used rhetoric figures in his speech “I Have a Dream,” having made it one of the most magnificent speeches in the American history. Using different rhetorical figures, Martin Luther King Jr. managed to influence his audience emotionally and logically. He captured the minds of all Americans, suggesting Blacks to unite and fight together in a peaceful manner, and called attention to the broken promises of America. This speech marked a significant turning point in the United States history that showed society fighting for equal rights.

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