Analysis of "I Have a Dream" Speech

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“I Have A Dream”

Martin Luther King Jr.

On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. gave a speech that electrified a nation. In Washington D.C, King delivered his speech on the steps of the Lincoln memorial and as his powerful voice echoed out across an audience of 200,000 people, echoes of the Gettysburg address could be heard as well as the Declaration of Independence and the Bible. It has been called “masterfully delivered and improvised sermon, bursting with biblical language and imagery.”The passionate speech is filled with rhetorical devices that help ground into earth King's demands of racial equality and outcries of social injustice.

The second paragraph of the speech starts with “Five score years ago”, an allusion to Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg address. This is particularly poignant due to the fact that the speech was given on the steps of his memorial. A memorial to the president who passed the emancipation proclamation. Martin Luther King Jr. continues with comparing this (the emancipation proclamation) “momentous decree” to a “great beacon light” to those who had “been seared in the flames of withering injustice” in an example of a simile and then a metaphor. The metaphor is expanded to call the proclamation “a joyous daybreak” to a “long night.” The metaphors help prove King's point through contrasting two abstract concepts through tangible things. The last sentence of the second paragraph is the first of many references to the bible. In comparing Psalms 30:5 “For his anger is but for a moment; his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning” to King's line “ It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity” the parallels can be seen. The use of biblical references helps link the work of MLK to the bible and divine things. Southerners being in the “bible belt” and dominantly Christian, this reference to the bible strikes home to these slaveholders.

The third paragraph contains a strong example of anaphora with the repetition of “one hundred years later” four times. This is used to thrust home the point of how long the suffrage has gone on. The duration is important but also the effect of its repetition makes the paragraph seem longer and drawn out- like the injustices that are still being suffered- one hundred years later. Also a simile is used to compare segregation to imprisonment in the the phrases “manacles of segregation” and “chains of discrimination.” The usage of these rhetorical devices relates slavery to jail and further contrast it from the biblical allusions used with equality.

Paragraph four of the speech is a large metaphor for an allusion to the United States Declaration of Independence which is later cited directly. In Specific King alludes to the declaration in saying “unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Which within itself is a tricolon ascends. This allusion to such an important American document is used to support King's theme of equality by pointing out its resonance in the purely American document. Throughout this portion of the speech King makes a metaphor of these guaranteed rights saying they are a “promissory note”. This metaphor links these intangible unalienable rights to something tangible which falls into place with the rest of the expanded metaphor. He goes on the say that the Negro people have received “a bad check” and when they tried to cash this check is comes back marked ““insufficient funds.”” These metaphors feed into the larger one of a citizens rights to a promise of a bank. Martin Luther King Jr. shows his hope the country in the continuance of the metaphor in which he refuses to believe “the bank of justice” is bankrupt and that there are insufficient funds in the “great vaults of opportunity”. Furthermore he makes a metaphor of freedom to riches and security to justice. The use of all these smaller metaphors feed into the larger one and these rhetorical...
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