In this life, many hope for peace, but not many try to achieve it. According to Martin Luther King Jr’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail”, there are many ways to achieve this, but the best possible course of action would be through nonviolent direct action, which includes but is not limited to: peaceful protest, sit-ins and civil disobedience. In King’s letter, he proclaims his reasoning behind nonviolent direct action, including: the concept that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” (par. 4), extremism can be used positively (par. 22), and the fact that “oppressed people will not stay oppressed forever” (par. 24). King uses literary devices including ethos, logos, and pathos to prove and reaffirm that which he is trying to convey.
Through the use of many rhetorical devices, Martin Luther King expertly writes this piece using those devices to improve and influence the response of his audience. This introduction to his book, Why We Can’t Wait, is used to bring injustice to light and as a call to action piece. His goal is to inform the whites of America about racial inequality and to rally the African Americans to continue working towards a desegregated world.
Thesis: King brilliantly applies rhetorical strategies such as pathos, logos and ethos that are crucial in successfully influencing detractors of his philosophical views on civil disobedience.
In “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. resolutely responds to eight clergymen who question his methods of protest against segregation in Birmingham, Alabama. Specifically, in paragraphs 12-14, Dr. King explains why his protests are indeed being done in a timely manner to obtain the “constitutional and God-given rights” (A Portable Anthology, page 207) that Africans have been restricted of for over 340 years. Dr. King’s argument, combined with his strategic use of rhetorical devices to enhance it, helps create a palpable feeling of understanding that captivates the audience into seeing America through his vision.
Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” and Henry David Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience” collectively persuade their audiences to disobey authority when it concerns social injustice. King takes a more assertive yet respectful approach, and makes it a point to explicate the intolerable treatment that the black community had to endure under the encroachment of segregation laws. In addition, Thoreau expounds why it is so important for citizens to object and take action upon the corrupt laws that the government had imposed on the blacks, insisting that civil disobedience is a means of freedom. Both of these influential men successfully utilize occasion, purpose, tone, appeals and rhetorical strategies to
In 1963, the rights and the equality for African Americans was a cause constantly fought for. Protests and marches took place in order to push for a change in the society, to make a world where equality is achieved. In a Birmingham jail, sat a civil rights leader named Martin Luther King Jr.. Placed in this cell due to a protest held in Birmingham, Alabama when there was a court order stating it was not allowed, King wrote a letter that has become an influential and infamous piece of writing. This letter became known as, “The letter from a Birmingham Jail”. This letter calls out to the criticisms placed on King and confronts them all. In this letter, through rhetorical devices such as pathos, logos and ethos, and other rhetorical devices.
He next turns to the clergymen criticism that the SCLC action is “untimely.” After insisting that Albert Boutwell was not different enough to warrant patience, he launches into an extended claim that “privileged groups” will always oppose action that threatens the status quo. They will always consider attacks on their privilege as “untimely,” especially because groups have a tendency towards allowing immorality that individuals might oppose.
Anthesis is a rhetorical device in which two opposite ideas are put together to achieve a contrasting effect. Dr. King believes that he and others must protest because of the injustice to African Americans, stating that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” (King par. 4). By using injustice and the opposite justice, Dr. King illustrates his point that, justice is not safe if injustice is being practiced. Dr. King makes the point that no matter where, it is not acceptable to live with injustice. In Dr. King’s case, the injustice is the segregation of the African Americans. Dr. King mentions the threat of injustice to support his case of nonviolent protesting. Dr. King states that “freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed” (King par. 11). He compares the oppressor and the oppressed to highlight the need for protesting. Without it, African Americans would continue living their segregated lives. Moreover, Dr. King uses questions to strengthen his argument of nonviolent protesting.
Martin Luther King Jr. was a well-known advocate for justice and civil liberties. His biggest devotion was for equality of African-American citizens, usually revealed in marches or peaceful demonstrations; in Birmingham, however, one of such protests rendered King and hundreds of his fellow protesters in jail. From that cell, King wrote his “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” in which he proposed the idea that “it is a historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture but…groups tend to be more immoral than individuals” (par. 12). Regarding King’s quote, it could be ammended to state that groups are more likely to influence the upkeep of a practice of privilege while individuals hold more power over their own decisions.
The fight for civil rights and freedom is a reoccurring subject that has appeared throughout American history. Henry David Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience” and Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter From Birmingham Jail” were written over one hundred years apart. Although they are set in different time periods, they discuss the rights the American people should have, while also criticizing the people with superior power in the government. Thoreau’s aggressive writing style and King’s peaceful, calm style help to deliver their messages. Not only their writing style but also their emotional appeals, tone, and other rhetorical strategies help to give their audience a sense of the social issues they are disagreeing strongly with.
Some privileged people disregard the violence against the oppressed people to develop a sense of safety. They hide behind their entitlement and exemption; ignoring the rest of the people that are suffering around them. Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. wrote his famous letter, “A Letter From Birmingham Jail” in response to the criticism that was expressed by eight prominent white clergyman. He wrote the letter to battle injustice and oppression against African Americans during the events of the Civil Rights movement. His letter was written decades apart from Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “Letter to my Son,” however, both letter still reflects the ongoing events of today’s society. Coates’ letter, written on 2015, portrays a black American father writing to his son and fears that however hard he protects him from the street, encourages him to work in school, and do the right thing, the color of his skin, will always make him vulnerable. King and Coates’ letter both appeal to the broader public to inform them of the institutional racism in America. King focuses on the immorality of the church in order to justify the cause of the power structure that racism reinforce. Both authors expose the injustices of the legal system to support their indictment of the systemic racism in America.
Persuasive writing is most effective when all three rhetorical appeals, Logos, Pathos, and Ethos, come together to form an indisputable argument. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X are two of the most influential figures of the past few decades; similarly, their work is summarized as some of the most persuasive and controversial of all time. The audience of both of their pieces, “Letter from Birmingham Jail” and “The Ballot or the Bullet” include oppressed African Americans and the white oppressors themselves. Each man takes full advantage of the three rhetorical appeals to influence their audiences to support their radical theories about racial inequality in the 1960’s. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” is the most effective because of its hopeful emotions, irrefutable facts and, of course, the respected author.
Obviously, again my primary motivation for writing my Rhetorical Analysis of Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” is that this is a requirement for my English Composition Class. My heartfelt motivation for writing my Rhetorical Analysis is the respect I have for Martin Luther King’s intelligence and commitment that he displayed for the equality of the African American population. In analyzing “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”, I developed an even stronger understanding of the dedication Mr. King had for the disadvantaged poor black population and the injustice that victimized them on a daily basis.
In 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. was thrown into jail due to participating in non-violent protests against racism and segregation in the city of Birmingham. There, he wrote the famous “Letter from the Birmingham Jail,” which became one of the most important letters in history of the American civil rights movement (Colaiaco 1). The open letter covered many points to King’s arguments for why the marches, protests, and other non-violent actions were necessary and justifiable. James Colaiaco analyzes the key components to the letter and the different ways Martin Luther King, Jr. used literary devices to form a well written argument.
One of Dr. King's most influential devices is his pristine use of repetition in order to drill his points across and reel the audience in. He goes on by describing the poor conditions faced by African Americans due to segregation that is ultimately at the fault of the government. Also showing how their African brothers are being taken away to fight for a country that does not see them as equals. His use of repetition is seen in statements such as: “...their sons and their brothers and their husbands to fight and to die…” and, “For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of the hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence….” Dr. King intends to stress the idea of this injustice in order to rally the people against the lack of civil rights by humanizing the countless African Americans who had died fighting for a nation that will not fight for them.