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Martin Luther King Civil Disobedience Rhetorical Essay

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Martin Luther King Jr.’s Use of Rhetoric in Civil Disobedience In Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail”, King discusses the importance of civil disobedience being performed. King is confined in the Birmingham city jail and decides to respond to the criticisms of his fellow clergymen although he often does not acknowledge such statements. King’s understanding of civil disobedience is clearly reflected in his use of rhetoric and includes violating the law in peaceful terms to protest unjust laws and circumstances. To begin the Letter, Martin Luther King Jr. uses Aristotle’s definition of ethos to “butter up” the clergymen, calling them “men of genuine good will” and declaring “[their] criticisms are sincerely set forth” (165). King takes the high ground instead of getting into a petty name calling squabble to demonstrate that his viewpoint is legitimate and also to open the ears of the clergymen as they are more likely to listen if they feel respected by the writer. King sets his character to one that is equal to his fellow clergymen, announcing his role as “president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.” (165) King cleverly addresses ethos of Aristotle’s triangle first to structure his argument on civil disobedience using other parts of the triangle. Martin Luther King Jr. when making his argument appeals to the emotions of the reader referencing many current epidemics as a way to shock the reader into listening to his true intentions. When
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