“Letter from Birmingham Jail” by Martin Luther King Jr. Martin Luther King Jr. was an American clergyman, activist, philanthropic, and leader in the African-American Civil Rights Movement. He worked for racial equality and civil rights using nonviolent civil disobedience. This letter was published in King’s book “Why We Can’t Wait.” It was written in response to a public statement of concern issued by eight White clergymen of Alabama; who disagreed with his civil rights actions. King also quite deliberately wrote his letter for a national audience. The letter reveals King's strength as an advocate and his extent of knowledge. It alludes to numerous secular thinkers, as well as to the Bible. Although, King successfully employs an intense tone, uses rhetorical devices and pathos and presents sufficient support for his claim to strengthen the persuasion his letter is aimed at creating, however, an unprecedented progression of his arguments due to lack of coherence weakens his method of organization. In Letter from the Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King Jr. sheds light on the social inequality the African Americans had to face at the hands of the Whites. Through his letter, he wanted to raise the public consciousness of racism, to end racial discrimination and segregation in the United States. Firstly, King’s usage of tone adheres to intensity and passion. Initially, he is very polite in his approach which helps the reader to really listen to what he has to say. For instance, “men of genuine goodwill..., I want to answer your statement...” (1). When he actually gets his point through is when the tone gradually starts to get firmer and firmer throughout the text yet at the same time King maintains his politeness. It is mentioned in the letter that the African Americans were left ‘with no alternative’ and thereby, provoking them to take such a huge step of direct action (2). King portrays himself as one of the clergy men, but one that has to overcome the many obstacles of the average African American hence, therefore, he began the letter by addressing his audience as the ‘fellow clergyman’(1). Such tone makes the words turn to motion and appeal to the emotions of the reader; they can almost ‘see’ what King is proclaiming. Moreover, King does this all in a diplomatic, profound and completely inoffensive voice, thereby making the letter more effective and less threatening. For instance, he is trying to highlight the claim that he, in no way advocates evading the law as he believes that it would lead to anarchy (5). Thus the tone substantiates the author’s pursuit of convincing his reader that racism and social inequality cannot be justified. Secondly, throughout the letter, use of different rhetorical techniques, pathos and emotional appeal raises different emotions among the audience. He invokes a state of anger, and empathy, and draws an argument that injustice has seized the civil rights movement. ‘…because injustice is here’ (1). Likewise, King conjures pathos of repulsion, sadness, and sympathy in describing several horrific events which occurred during non-violent protests. ‘victims of a broken promise’ (2); words such as “crisis” and “tension” (3) and “bitterness” (4). Moreover, the choice of words creates the pathos of injustice. For instance, “But when you have … then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait” (4). These instances help to remind the audience if they have experienced crushed hopes in their own experiences, thereby, encouraging pity and sympathy. Furthermore, King gives such overwhelming emotion when he compares the situation in Birmingham with Biblical situations. “thus saith the Lord” (1) and also “ isn’t this like condemning Jesus … to God will be precipitated the evil act of crucifixion” (6). These sacred examples illustrate King’s attempt to compare his civil rights movement to that of Jesus’s. Therefore, this shows King’s command over different writing...
Cited: King Jr., Martin Luther. "Why We Can 't Wait."Http://books.google.com/books/about/Why_We_Can_t_Wait.html?id=lDUgwcqfupQC. Penguin, 2000, n.d. Web. 18 Nov. 2013.
"Straw Announces Inquiry into Lawrence Murder." BBC News. BBC, 1997. Web. 18 Nov. 2013. .
King, Jr., Martin Luther; The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr., Volume V: Threshold of a New Decade, January 1959 – December 1960. University of California Press. p. 231. ISBN 0-520-24239-4.
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