Letter from Birmingham Jail; Rhetorical Analysis

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Martin Luther King Jr.’s Use of the Rhetoric Triangle
Every writer has some sort of drive when writing a piece of work. Whether that drive comes from a creative source or the need to prove a point, it exists. For Martin Luther King Jr. that drive was the need to put an end to racial injustice that seemed to be everywhere. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” is a perfect example. “Letter from Birmingham Jail” was King’s response to eight clergymen’s “A Call for Unity.” His drive came from the clergymen’s unjust propositions and accusations. This letter allowed King to not only propose a rebuttal but to justify his own civil disobedience, as well as explain the indecency of racial segregation. Throughout his letter, King uses several rhetoric strategies to create a powerful tone to back up his opinions and ideas. Martin Luther King Jr. effectively got his point across to not only the eight, white, clergymen, but to an entire generation as well. King was truly a master of rhetoric, for he managed to incorporate the three points of the rhetoric triangle, make them evident, and still managed to have an entire argument flowing smoothly. Using logos, ethos, and pathos from the rhetoric triangle, King refuted the clergymen’s accusations and utilized their harsh points to present his own views instead.

King first starts off by stating the general purpose of his letter; he then specifically addresses the clergymen to set up his logical counter-argument. In their letter, the clergy men use the phrase “outsider” to describe King. They use it in a term to make him feel unwelcome as well as question his reason for even being in the state of Alabama. The first set of paragraphs, King addresses all the points made by the clergymen, specifically the term “outsider.” I think I should indicate why I am here in Birmingham, since you have been influenced by the view which argues against “outsiders coming in”…Several months ago the affiliate here in Birmingham asked us to be on call to engage in a nonviolent direct-action program if such were deemed necessary. We readily consented, and when the hour came we lived up to our promise. (Par. 2) In paragraph 2, King points out the facts as well as his business in Birmingham. Logos required logic, facts, anything that shows flow of logic. In this text, King was informing us, as well as the clergymen that he in fact did have business in Birmingham. “Just as the prophets of the eighth century B.C left their villages and carried their “thus saith the Lord” … Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid.” (Par. 3) A subsection of logos is appeal to authority and by referencing to the Apostle Paul, King uses the same Biblical mentality of the clergymen to get his own point across, as well as justify his reasons for being in Alabama. Just like the Apostle Paul spread the word of Jesus, King is spreading the word of freedom. Briefly, King touched upon nonviolent direct-action in the previous paragraph as in his reasons for being there, however he goes more in depth into these direct-action ‘steps’. “In any nonviolent campaign there are four steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self purification; and direct action.” (Par. 6) A major element of logos is enumeration. King uses enumeration to lay out a foundation for his counter argument by addressing the essential steps needed to have a successful nonviolent campaign.

As King’s tone in the letter begins to shift and change direction, so does his use of the rhetoric triangle. From logos he then moves on to ethos. Martin Luther King Jr. uses ethos to follow up on his direct towards the audiences concerning the obedience of laws. Or rather, the lack of obedience. However, by laws he did not exactly mean state or city laws having to do with material objects or taxes, in fact, he was speaking about laws that degraded the human being. He was speaking of moral laws....
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