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Rhetorical Purpose of the Speech: “I Have a Dream”

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Rhetorical Purpose of the Speech: “I Have a Dream”

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In Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech “I Have a Dream,” his extensive use of imagery, repetition, and metaphor, as well as an appeal to the reader’s sense of ethos, logos, and pathos, persuade the audience to have faith and optimism in the face of despair and prejudice. His speech empowers and encourages the audience to make a stand against discrimination and the status quo.

Standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, King begins his speech with a reference to the Emancipation Proclamation, which was to free the slaves. Powerfully intertwining the words, “great beacon light of hope” and “joyous daybreak” to represent this “momentous decree,” the use of imagery establishes that a long awaited moment had finally occurred. This is important to note, because similar imagery runs throughout the entire speech. It institutes that freedom is light and slavery is vile darkness which must be overcome by this “joyous daybreak.”

After the mention of freedom being confirmed, the repetition of “one hundred years later” with the verification that “the Negro is still not free” answers the purpose of the speech appealing to logos: it must not be this way-change is necessary. Going on to note the importance of “now,” and how “we can never be satisfies,” King ascertains that even in the face of “police brutality,” we must still “have a dream” and “let freedom ring.” The repetition of these phrases is imperative to observe as they establish that the status quo must not be accepted as reality of life. Discrimination is wrong, and therefore should be “made low,” as will be for every mountain and hill.

When King states in paragraph 3 through 4, that “in a sense we have come to our nation’s capital to cash a check,” the use of this metaphor directly illustrates the call for freedom and refusal to accept discrimination, and stand up to face “the palace of justice” mentioned in paragraph 6. When he uses this literary device, the effect is to make the hearer as well as...