Critical Study of "I Have a Dream"

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Area of Study – Belonging: ORT 1 Analysis
HSC Advanced English

1) Identify the title, text type, composer and year of publication.

I Have a Dream (IHD) is a speech composed by Martin Luther King Jr – a prominent leader in the African American civil rights movement – on August 28th 1963.

2) Identify the context in which your ORT has been set.

Martin Luther King Jr was an activist for African American civil rights. On the day of the speech 200,000 fellow activists were participating in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom; King delivered his speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial – a symbol for freedom in the eyes of all Americans. This speech was given at a time when racial tensions were at a peak and African Americans were discriminated and ostracized.

3) Outline at least 3 key ideas about belonging/not belonging, which are represented in your ORT.

i) The heritage of African American people influencing their identity, hence hindering their ability to belong.

African American people were first brought to North America as slaves in 1619; the oppression they faced at the hands of their white persecutors continued on for some 246 years before slave laws were abolished. However, even after slavery was eliminated, cultural segregation still remained and remains to this very day. As such, memories of ill treatment were still fresh in the mind of King as he wrote the speech, “the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination”. This strong acknowledgement of heritage within the African American people as whole is a testament to in inherent sense of belonging they feel as an individual people. But, therein lies the problem, they are still an individual people. They yearn to become part of the greater American community; however, they are limited in this regard due to the abhorrent treatment of their forefathers.

ii) Experiences described in the text provide explanation to the protagonist’s intense desire to belong.

Even after almost 350 years of segregation and brutality at the hands of his white oppressor’s King still strives forward to join a culture – which a majority of its members don’t want him to belong too. King states: “battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality”, highlights the treatment of his people. He still endeavours to belong in place where he can be described as “an exile in his own land”. King further highlights not only the racial segregation but also the barriers of economic classes, “Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity”. Through all these barriers King still strives to get recognition in a society that clearly does not want to recognise him, however, as King stated “this situation can and will be changed”.

iii) Relationships within the minority group band it together so that despite persecution they can rally as a unified people to strive for belonging.

King has done an excellent job at highlighting the relationship he shares with each and every one of his fellow African Americans. King highlights the importance of unity in the face of adversity, “We cannot walk alone”, and the use of inclusive diction continually reassuring his audience that he fully intends to remain with them through thick and thin just as their ancestors had done before them. Furthermore, King wishes to bring this intense sense of kinship and share it with the other races of America, “With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together”.

4) Discuss how the composer has used a variety of language modes, forms, features and structures to represent these key ideas.

i) Throughout his address King continually alludes to other great texts, this allows for him to create a...
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