Mlk and Frye

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“I Have a Dream” and the Levels of the Mind

Martin Luther King, Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech is, in my opinion, the greatest speech in American history. Thousands upon thousands of people marched on Washington and gathered around the Lincoln Memorial to hear this speech. It brought civil rights into the forefront of the political agenda and supported the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The speech itself follows a fairly specific pattern regarding the levels of the mind, as described in Northrop Frye’s “The Motive For Metaphor”:
At the level of ordinary consciousness the individual man is the centre of everything, surrounded on all sides by what he isn’t. At the level of practical sense, or civilization, there’s a human circumference, a little cultivated world with a human shape, fenced off from the jungle and inside the sea and the sky. But in the imagination anything goes that can be imagined, and the limit of the imagination is a totally human world. Here we recapture, in full consciousness, that original lost sense of identity with our surroundings, where there is nothing outside the mind of man, or something identical with the mind of man. (Frye, Metaphor) As described, there are three levels of the mind; The level of consciousness, the level of practical sense, and the level of imagination. All of which can easily be found in King’s “I Have a Dream” but first we must understand what the levels mean to understand their role in King‘s speech..

The first level of the mind is the level of consciousness or awareness. Frye does an excellent job in describing these levels by using a shipwreck scenario to use as metaphor to these

levels. In the level of conscious awareness, you have just shipwrecked on an island and are faced with an objective world which is set against you. You are not a part of this world, nor are you yourself. There is no interaction between you and the inhabitants of this island. You feel lonely...
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