Martin Luther King vs. Henry David Thoreau

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The two essays, "Civil Disobedience," by Henry David Thoreau, and "Letter From a Birmingham Jail," by Martin Luther King, Jr., effectively illustrate the authors' opinions of justice. Each author has his main point; Thoreau, in dealing with justice as it relates to government, asks for "not at once no government, but at once a better government. King contends that "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." Both essays offer a complete argument for justice, but, given the conditions, King's essay remains more effective, in that its persuasive techniques have more practical application. Both essays extensively implement both emotional and ethical appeal to give their respective ideas validity.

One persuasive technique that each author implements to support his ideas emotionally is the use of biblical allusion. However, in comparison, King's use is stronger in that the tone of his allusions is more appealing to the reader. King's allusions cause the reader to want take action against injustice, whereas Thoreau's are darker -- more likely to make the reader want to submit to and accept the injustices portrayed. For example, King, in his first biblical allusion, manages to draw glory into his struggle by comparing himself with the Apostle Paul, feeling "compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my particular home town," just as Paul "left his little village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to practically every hamlet and city in the Graeco-Roman world.. . ." This stirs admiration in the reader for King and adds relevance to his struggle. Later King discusses the history of his style of civil disobedience by relating the tale of "Christians who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks, before submitting to certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire." This accomplishes much the same thing as his previous allusion, with the difference that it is beneficial more for his cause than for the man...
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