Letter from Birmingham Jail Rhetorical Analysis- Martin Luth

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Gurpreet Singh 10-01-10
Mr. BaldwinE5X-02
Martin Luther King, Jr. Analytical Essay

Violence, force, bribery. These are just the few of the many ways figures all throughout

history have come to implement their ideas among others. Whether it be through force or logic,

there needs to be some form for persuasion to pass of your claim. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,

promoter of social justice, utilized rhetorical strategies to persuade his opponents of his claims.

When Dr. King received a letter from eight Alabama clergy men, attacking his works for civil

rights, he wrote back to them employing the rhetorical strategies of pathos, ethos, and logos. Dr.

King is without a doubt a master of rhetoric, as is exemplary through his expert use of pathos,

ethos, and logos.

Dr. King uses pathos to make the readers feel sympathetic towards the injustice him and

his fellow black neighbors face every day. In his letter, Dr. King makes an extremely emotional

and strong point when he discusses the hardships segregation has brought to his community,

when he says,
…When you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year old daughter why she can't go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children. (¶ 14)

This piece of the letter is undoubtedly the most influential one, appealing to the readers

emotions. Dr. King does an exceptional job in giving an insight to the reader and audience of

everyday African American life. By using the example of his daughter crying because she is not

allowed into Funtown because of the color of her skin, it makes the audience feel that it is their

own fault that she is crying, sending off a sense of remorse. This feeling of remorse is in turn

used by Dr. King as a legitimate reason to discourage segregation. King later quotes his own five

year old son, “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?” (¶ 14) This quote is

quite humiliating, in the sense that the feelings of segregation are so strong, that even a five year

old is wondering what makes him so different from his neighbors, and why him, his family, and

his community are mistreated. This affects the audience because it makes them feel ashamed for

how unnecessarily far they have taken segregation. Martin Luther King, Jr. intended to create a

feeling of proximity and sympathy for the civil rights cause, which he did with great success

using his mastery of pathos.

Dr. King’s understanding of moral law and ethical reasoning makes his arguments very

strong through his use of ethos. One of the ways Dr. King uses ethos to strengthen his argument

against the Alabama clergy is when he refers to the bible, he says,

…Just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home town. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid. (¶ 3)

Knowing that his audience is highly pious, Dr. King uses a reference to the Apostle Paul, to

present a respectable argument to them, using a rhetorical device known as appeal to authority.

Apostle Paul played an important role in spreading the word of Jesus, which is an act of holiness,

and Dr. King compares his mission of spreading the word of morality and equality among blacks

and whites to it. He suggests he has the support of God to wage his war against injustice, and this...
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