Rhetorical Analysis of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream”
The “I Have a Dream” speech has very simple diction and context. The author of the “I Have A Dream” speech is Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. King and is known for his work in Civil Rights during the late 1950s and mid1960s. The purpose of this speech is to inspire change in both white and black citizens of the United States during the Civil Rights era. The main idea of the speech is to convince both sides of the discussion that they must accept change in a non-violent yet effective way. Finally, the audience of the speech is very broad as it spans across all colors and ages however, one should note that since the speech is given in Washington, it can be assumed that the speech attempts to engage lawmaker’s and policy maker’s ears. The tone of Dr. King’s speech is somewhat narrative yet argumentative. The speech conveys many of his personal thoughts and experiences. However, there is a strong position taken against the crimes of “white” citizens and the nation as a whole, and also the victimization of African Americans as a whole. The style of the speech is very formal with some hints of informality to help gain appeal to the largely uneducated black population. The diction or word choice is comparable to other political speeches due to the fact that Dr. King must still be very persuasive with is ideas and thoughts. Yet, throughout the “I Have a Dream” speech, one may find a bit of black gospel within it. The images and the allusions are heavily religious, reminiscent of a Sunday church service. The tone is both informative and argumentative. The claims he makes are very clear: 1) American has defaulted on its promise in that all men are created equal 2) The black people of the U.S. are still not “free.” 3) Now is the time to make changes. 4) As, King suggests, “Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred” (p.2) People should move forward to spread the message that freedom is a part of every U.S. citizen’s life, even blacks. In terms of support, King uses biblical references along with his very overt in using his own testimony of what is happening in the United States. “That one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low... the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together” (p.1). In terms of “artificial” support, King uses many different kinds of pathos. Beginning with a long allegory about Negro freedom and banking, King uses the imagery of being behind a great leader, Abraham Lincoln. One could easily make a case that the imagery is also linked to ethos, since Lincoln was the father of the Emancipation Proclamation and freed all slaves. Towards the end of the speech, there is a surge of pathos, as King discusses the brutality that the Negros have experience and the basic everyday life of the Negros who are unable to find jobs, stay in hotels, etc. Towards the absolute close of the speech, King launches into a long discussion of a possible and decent future, using images of children playing together. While the introduction of the speech comes from Lincoln, the conclusion uses lyrics from the song “America”. Additionally, he gives a sort of shout out to the people of the United States, saying: “Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York... Pennsylvania... Colorado... California” (p.2). In the end, King closes with words from an old Negro spiritual: “Freed at last! Free at last! Thank God almighty, we are free at last” (p.1). King’s style is unique but very easy to discuss. King’s use of ornamentation is made possible through heavy uses of the anaphora. An example of this includes his long series of “I have a dream...” statements, where he states: “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed... I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will...
Cited: Harrison, James H. "Ten Martin Luther King Jr. Quotes." The Christian Science Monitor. The Christian Science Monitor, 18 Jan. 2010. Web. 20 Feb. 2013.
Kanalley, Craig. "I Have A Dream Speech (TEXT)." The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 17 Jan. 2011. Web. 20 Feb. 2013.
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