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I Have a Dream: Rhetorical Analysis

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Nene Kubata        

Dr. Bakht

FYW-101-K1

October 16, 2015

I Have a Dream Rhetorical Analysis

        On August 28, 1963, a man stood in front of Abraham Lincoln’s statue at the steps of Lincoln Memorial to deliver one of the most influential speeches that the United States has ever heard to this day. His name was Martin Luther King Jr. Before this date, countless attempts had been made by all kinds of people from regular civil servants to influential leaders of the country to bring freedom and fairness for men of all color. Many, from slaves, such as Frederick Douglass, to famous leaders, such as John F. Kennedy, are recognized for their efforts for trying to create an environment where all men could live equally and be given the same amount of respect. Abraham Lincoln himself is greatly recognized for fighting in the Civil War, for the equal rights for black men. However, Martin Luther King Jr. was amongst the first men to changed the lives of many with a single speech.  His speech, “I Have a Dream,” given in front of over 200,000 civil rights supporters was a huge game changer in the Civil Rights history (Martin Luther King Jr.: I Have a Dream). Through his use of ethics, reasoning, and emotions in his argument, King was able to captivate his audience and convince many of legal equality for all; which resulted in his speech being one of the, if not THE defining moments of the American Civil Rights Movement.

        As he begins to deliver his speech, Martin Luther King Jr. starts out a statement by saying, “Five score years ago…” in an effort to emphasize that this matter (civil rights) is not a newly arisen issue, but has been an issue for decades now. He continues on stating, “…a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation” (Martin Luther King Jr.: I Have a Dream). In this statement, he alludes to Abraham Lincoln. By alluding to such a great and known figure fin history, King is also bringing some authority into his speech. Abraham Lincoln was a very well known and powerful American leader in the early 1860s, who fought for the civil rights of African Americans, and gained the respect of the African American Community (March on Washington). Since a powerful and great Caucasian leader fought for it, it’s not just an issue that should be cared for by the African American community, but also people of all color. Using such a greatly known and reliable figure from the past brings the appeal of ethos into King’s speech in that it gives the speech some credibility. It makes it apparent that he knows what he is talking about and did the right research for approaching the kind of crowd he was addressing that day. His use of ethos also appears in his attire and language. He has on a black suite and a white shirt so not to draw the audience’s attention away from what he is saying and onto what he is wearing. This portrays that he is a professional and formal man. Also, wearing any other could be a distraction for the audience members. The suite also displays that he is dressed in a professional and appropriate attire for the occasion. The language that he utilizes during the speech showcases his level of education. Not only does he use simple yet advanced language, he also speaks in a loud and clear manner, annunciating each word with great diction.

        Although the use of logos is not the first of the strategies that is noticed, it is apparent throughout the entire speech. King appeals to logos mainly through the use of deductive reasoning to make and prove his cases. For example, in stating one of his major foundations, he says, “When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” (Martin Luther King Jr.: I Have a Dream). Here he strongly argues that all American citizens are created equally and are promised the rights of liberty, life, and pursuit of happiness, and since African Americans are indeed American citizens, they should be guaranteed the same rights. By using both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, he sufficiently backs up his argument with some trustworthy sources. This, again, shows that he is knowledgeable in what he is talking about and gives him, as the speaker, credibility and reliability as I mentioned before. In other places, he employs counter-examples to demonstrate his points. For example, towards the middle of his delivery, King urges his audience to “Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities…” so to tell them that although they came from suffering, they must go back to the places they came from because they will be rewarded and praised for their suffering (Martin Luther King Jr.: I Have a Dream). It will all be worth it in the end because change is coming. All these places are examples of the places that people saw the most drastic and harshest forms of suffering and segregation.

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