Analysis of ‘I Have a Dream’ Using Kenneth Burke’s Pentad
There are many ways on how to analyze an action, including languages or speeches; and one of which is through the dramatic pentad. The Dramatic Pentad refers to the five methods developed by Kenneth Burke in analyzing human actions. According to scholars, the Burke’s Pentad to analyze questions such as “how persons explain their actions to themselves and others, what the cultural and social structural influences on these explanations might be, and what effect connotational links among the explanatory (motivational) terms might have on these explanations, and hence, on action itself” (Overington, 1977, p.133). In his work ‘A Grammar of Motives,’ Burke put forward his method in analyzing what humans are doing and why humans act as they do. Burke’s approach is to treat the actions of people not merely as movement, but rather as a conscious action as if they are actors in a play. The five elements that make up Burke’s pentad are: 1) the act; 2) the scene; 3) the agent; 4) the agency and 5) the purpose (Burke, 1978, p.330). The ‘act’ element answers the questions such as what action was done or what happened. The scene, on the other hand, refers to the environment or context wherein the action occurs. It answers the question of where the action was done and the physical and theoretical circumstances that surrounds the action. The agent, on the other hand, is the one doing the action. Who does the action is an important consideration in Burke’s dramatic pentad. The agency is also another important element that refers to the means used by the agent in doing his or her actions. This element answers the question, how did the agent or actor does the action and what were the channels or mediums that the agent used. Lastly, the purpose reveals the motive of the agent for doing the action. For Burke, an act, as simple as it may seem, involves motivation and purpose, which needs to be understood in order to determine the agent’s purpose in order to understand the actions. Using the principles of the pentad, the paper will analyze the speech of Martin Luther King, ‘I Have a Dream’ and discuss King’s world view. The paper also aims to determine which element of the Pentad is the most significant in aiding the analysis.
What Martin Luther King did on, ‘I Have a Dream,’ was speaking or delivering a speech. King’s speech is not an impromptu type of speech; that is, he was reading a texted copy at the podium. He started his speech by reminding the audience of the proclamation of emancipation, which was a historic moment in American history. That after a hundred years has passed after the emancipation; the Negro is still not totally free because he is still under the bondage of segregation, discrimination, poverty and lack of mobility (King, 1963, p.1). Furthermore, the Negro still suffers persecution in the form of police brutality and selective justice. King’s speech, while being delivered in a mild manner, is extremely thought provoking and emotionally stirring. Nevertheless, he discourages Negroes from resorting to violence; advising them to conduct their protests in the ‘high plane of dignity and discipline” (King, 1963, p.3). King also acknowledged the support of many White people who have joined them in their cause. He reiterated that the Whites, also, are beneficiaries of the freedom that he is advocating for and added that “their (whites) destiny is tied up with our (blacks) destiny” (King, 1963, p.3). The climax of King’s speech was when he mentioned that despite the troubling reality of the Negro’s shameful condition, he still dreams that Blacks and Whites alike will someday sit down together as brothers (King, 1963, p.4).
Martin Luther King delivered his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech in front of a crowd of around 200,000 that are gathered in the grounds of Washington, D.C.. The event was known as ‘March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom’ wherein civil activists marched to Washington D.C. in protest the constitutional rights of African-Americans. It was participated by many civil rights organizations and people from all walks of life and color. It should be noted that in the 1960s, the American civil rights movement was at its peak. In fact, King’s speech reflects the sentiments of most African-Americans who have endured the many years of segregation and discrimination worsened by racially discriminating laws also known as Jim Crow laws.
Born as Michael Luther King Jr. in January 15, 1929, King came from a family of Baptist pastors in Atlanta. King also served as a pastor in his father’s congregation until his death in the 1968. He graduated his B.A. from Morehouse College in Atlanta and proceeded to earn his doctorate degree from Boston University in 1955. King became one of the prominent leaders of the civil rights movement in America in the 1950s and 1960s and became famous for his advocacy for non-violent protests. King was a prolific human rights speaker and is known as a prolific traveler and speaker against black discrimination and injustice. Prior to his assassination, King was awarded the prestigious Noble Peace Prize and was also awarded in 1963 by Time Magazine as Man of the Year. King was the youngest man to have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, but his life was cut short after he was shot in the balcony of a motel in Tennessee.
Martin Luther King delivered his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech through the use of microphones and sound systems set up by the event organizers of the ‘March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom’. Since March of 1963, the March was already being planned and organized by the Negro American Labor Council (NALC). In May, preparations are already being made for the August 28 protest. Not much has been said regarding the audio-visual technology that was used during the actual speech of King on that day in August. However, considering the time as well as the preparation that the organizers conducted prior to the event, it can be assumed that they could have used the latest audio and video technology during the time King delivered his speech. Based on audio and video footages, it is quite obvious that microphones, speakers and amplifiers are already being used in the 1960s in public speeches. The use of magnetic tapes as well as the rapid advancement in television technology was also utilized in most public speeches such as the one conducted by the organizers in the ‘March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom’ event. According to observers, technologies such as “gramophones, phonographs, wax cylinders, resin discs, telephones, microphones, then wire recordings and radio broadcasts, then talking pictures” helped people in the 1960s experience public speeches like never before (Graveline, 2013, p.24).
The primary purpose of Martin Luther King’s speech, just like most public speeches conducted during America’s civil rights movement, is to pressure the government to support the cause of the movement and establish strong anti-discriminatory laws and civil laws that would protect the civil rights of African-Americans. Also, these types of speeches are often made in public to reach out and motivate people to support the movement and to attract the government’s attention and serve as a call for reform. King’s fiery speeches, was in fact, effective in achieving its purpose since major reforms in civil rights laws eventually followed.
Based on the pentad analysis, it can be deduced that Martin Luther King’s worldview is that of a world where there is equality in rights and opportunity, notwithstanding race or color. It is quite apparent in this particular event that the act or the speech itself was the most significant element of the pintad. However, the speech or act would not have reached its momentous level if it was not complemented by the circumstances or the scene; and the means or technology, which made it possible for King to deliver his speech at such a great audience, flawlessly. The man who delivered the speech was also important and because King was motivated by the legitimate purpose of his advocacy, it gave him the push to rise up to the occasion. However, at that particular moment, the speech itself was the focus of everyone’s attention because of its stirring words and its impeccable delivery. Perhaps any Negro could have delivered that speech with similar effect since the power and beauty of the speech is not on the agent, but in the content of the speech itself. In fact, even in writing, the speech of Martin Luther King can move a reader through its contents alone. It can, therefore, be deduced that among the pentads, it is the speech or the act itself that is the more significant than the rest of the pentads.
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