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 ps 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 not be judge by the color of their skin but by the content of their character” (p. 2). Further, King makes heavy use of listing. In one passage, he states: “Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina… ” (p. 2), which he mixes with a sort of anaphora. King uses a large allegory in the beginning of the speech, again comparing banking to the rights of black U. S. citizens. Overall, the speech is very much loaded with rhetorical techniques.
King as an accomplished civil rights leader is a very talented and persuasive writer. His words are very optimistic and deliberate. He is very conscious of his audience, and he is very commanding of his wording to avoid hurting his credibility with this audience. The image I have chosen shows a group of men at a civil rights rally. All eyes, including a white man’s, are focused on Dr. King as he gives a speech promoting a higher equality for black citizens of America. There are signs in the background that say “full employment”, but the most powerful aspect f the picture is that there is a white man and a black man holding hands. The symbolism in which they are holding hands is incredibly powerful. At first thought people believe that all white men are against the idea of blacks having an equal opportunity, and for the most part that is true, but the fact that they are holding hands at a public speech is very powerful. I have a dream speech text I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.
Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity. But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination.
One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition. In a sense we have come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. 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, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds. ” But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation.
So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.
Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children. It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights.
The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges. But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline.
We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. They have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.
As we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, “When will you be satisfied? ” We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied, as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one.
We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating “For Whites Only”. We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream. I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells.
Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive. 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, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.
I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal. ” I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today. I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black irls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers. I have a dream today. I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.
With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day. This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with a new meaning, “My country, ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing.
Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring. ” And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania! Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado! Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California! But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!
Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee! Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring. And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! ree at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last! ” Work 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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