English Composition II
3, March 2015
The Productivity of Peace
In two shining examples of rhetorical power “A letter to a Birmingham Jail” and “Malcom X’s debate at the Oxford Union” The two great leaders of the civil rights movement outline their platforms and justify their philosophies in regards to how the movement should go about achieving societal change. Although the civil rights movement was brought to national attention by the combined work of MLK and Malcom X, the rhetorical strategies employed by the two are quite different and hold varying degrees of effectiveness. These social justice warriors did not receive an equal amount of respect nor did their ideas have an equal amount of impact because the concept of rhetorical situation was acknowledged by Martin and conversely ignored or disregarded by Malcom.
Rhetorical Situation or the concept that the situation at hand ;should determine the rhetoric used to address an issue or “exigence” is the primary reason that history will forever treasure the work of Martin Luther King and forget the bravery and accomplishment of Malcom X. The Rhetorical situation is only part of a broader system of analysis developed by the Rhetorician Loyd Bitzer, known as The Bitzerian Method. In this method a text is broken down into several components. First their must always be an exigence, or issue that needs resolving. Furthermore the exigence is only rhetorical when it can be solved in a positive way using persuasion. So an exigence is not merely just a problem, it is a very unique issue that has the potential to be resolved if only the right people can be persuaded to take action. Understanding that an exigence is only rhetorical when the solution lies in persuasion translates to the the second component of Bitzer’s method which is the audience. In this case the audience is not defined to mean a group of people passively receiving a verbal message. Rather in the context of Bitzer’s method an audience means the group of people with the power to initiate change, the group that must be targeted to resolve the exigence. The third and final component of Bitzer’s method is a set of constraints. Now constraints can be divided into two main groups. There are the situational constraints, these include situations, facts documents and traditions. And there are personal constraints made up speakers character, logical proofs and delivery style. They can also be taken to mean a set of ideological libations such as gender, sex and race. To Understand why Kings approach to resolving the issue of social injustice was so effective and Malcom’s not, one must outline the general beliefs of the two. Both men wanted desperately to exist in a society that did not treat African American’s or people with dark skin as inferior beings. They both were victims of horrible racist acts and shared a common desire to stand as a symbol of pride for their communities. They both saw the same exigence but sought to persuade different audiences.
Analyzing both Malcom’s speech and Martins letter in this method almost demands a specific evaluation of their exigences. Martins was twofold, he must explain why the demonstrations that landed him in jail were justified, and must also explain why his people deserve to be treated like equal’s, to be guaranteed the rights every human being deserves. The original reason for the composition of this letter was to respond to a statement published in the newspaper entitled “A Call for Unity”. Authored by eight Alabama clergyman, this statement condemned Martin and his methods. While the statement acknowledged the existence of social injustices it asserted that the issue should be resolved solely in the courts. And that MLK’s activists were “outsiders” causing trouble in the streets of Birmingham.
Now Martin agreed that his demonstrations had caused a great deal of tension in the city, but through his anecdotal references to the...
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