On the 28th day of August in 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. spoke to some 250,000 supporters and told them of his life’s greatest dream. This paper analyses the persuasion methods that was used by King in his speech “I Have a Dream” in order to convince the audience that an immediate reform is needed. This project also evaluates the speaker’s use of ethos, pathos, and logos in presenting his arguments. Additionally, the paper provides a brief introduction of his life, his experiences and his achievements. By looking into one of the most influential rhetorical works in the history of America, this analysis concludes that King was excellent in using emotional, ethical and logical appeal. Lastly his genuine dedication to put an end to racial discrimination have reflected in his work making his speech a timeless and powerful piece of literature.
Marthin Luther King Jr. is among the many African-American activitists who have employed his literary prowess, radical thought, political know-how and oratorical brilliance in advancing the cause of the Civil Rights Movement. His speech “I Have A Dream” has a defining influence on those who watched him speak and his words radiated across every human civilization. His effective use of ethos, pathos and logos together with his true aspiration and igniting conviction to end discrimination and segregation have made his speech phenomenal and intensely moving.
Having studied the great arts of theology and sociology, King is effortlessly spontaneous in using logos in his speech. He readily persudaes his audience by using rational explanations, literal analogies, and explicit reasons that strongly support his position. King employs deductive reasoning which is very effective in winning the agreement of the audience. Deductive reasoning is a logical process in which the author presents his conclusion then he substantiates it with multiple premises that are believed and proven to be true. In the second paragraph, King states his conclusion that after 100 years, the Negroes are still not free. To tell the audience that his assumption is true, he reiterates the miserable realities surrounding a Negro’s life. One of his most effective premises is the fact that the blacks are still captives of the chains of segregation and discrimination. He adds another premise and says that the Negro is still a captive of poverty. His third premise states that “the Negro is still languished in the corners of society and finds himself in exile in his own land.” (King, par.2) Through these three premises that are obviously true, King is able to convince the reader to recognize the fact that even after the Declaration of Emancipation, the citizens of color have never tasted true freedom.
Aside from his clever use of inductive logic, King upgrades his power of persuasion by clearly organizing his ideas. He employs the five-step process of the ordinary human reasoning. These steps involves 1) grabbing the attention of the audience towards the situation that the speaker presents, 2) making them feel the utter and urgent need to do something about the situation 3) guiding and instructing them on how to satisfy such need through suggesting probable solutions, 4) motivating them to visualize and imagine the positive consequences of the said solutions, 5) telling them to act and turn visions into reality. In his introduction, King calls the attention of the audience to their “shameful condition” and disheartening situation. He tells them that after 100 years the blacks should be enjoying unalienable rights that the Constitution have promised to give them. They must be enjoying their right of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness; but, “100 years later the Negro is still not free.” (King, par.2) By stating this contradiction, the speaker convinces the reader that they should not take this situation for granted. King then persuades the audience that they needed to do something in soonest urgency by highlighting all the troubles and crisis that the blacks have long endured. He tells them that instead of honoring their promise and obligation of freedom and equality for all, the government gave them check with “unsufficient funds.” Following the motivation sequence, King tells the audience that they should “march ahead” in a non-violent manner as a way to end discrimination. In order for the audience to visualize the result of marching ahead for equality and freedom, King takes them to his own dream. He provides wonderful descriptions of a life without injustice and discrimination. Lastly, he tells them to let freedom ring.
Having true sympathy for the dark destiny of his fellow blacks is one of the major reasons why King is able to incorporate a powerful pathos in his speech. He deeply connects with his audience by using figures of speech and telling stories. Being the prolific writer that he is, King uses rich language that several anthithesis, metaphors, similes and allusions dominate his piece. Throughout his speech, he heavily uses antithesis or sentences containing two contrasting propositions for a greater emotional impact. One of the great examples of antithesis is in 6th paragraph where King tells the crowd that “This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality.” (King, par.6) The speech also invokes a deep emotional response from the audience because of the speaker’s abundant use of simile and metaphor. Among the most powerful metaphors are the phrases “tranquilizing drug of gradualism” and “dark and desolate valley of segregation.” Simile is also a dominant figure of speech in King’s work such as the phrases “righteousness like a mighty stream” and justice rolls down like waters.” The speaker also stirs the emotion of the audience through the use of literal, biblical and historical allusions such as Isaiah 40:4 and Psalm 30:5. Through the employment of the diverse types of allusions, King is able to connect with every type of person who has different and definite inclination.
King’s admirable achievement in education, his position as a church minister and his African roots are just enough to prove that he is worth listening and is an authority to talk about discrimination and reform. The speaker himself is a victim of discrimination that gives him the credibility to talk about the pains and troubles of being a man of color. In 1943, “Aged 14, King was forced to give up his bus seat for a white passenger on a ride home from Georgia.” (BBC) This humiliating experience as a child serves as a common ground that automatically provides a connection between him and his audience. He also attended segregated public schools and Negro institutions and like any other black, he was not allowed to eat in restaurants that are only for white people. Although King does not mention this personal experiences in his speech, his background convinces the audience that he is a credible speaker. Despite his given credibility, King still employs a bit of ethos in his arguments. He makes reference to the Constitution to prove that discrimination is unlawful and he refers to the Bible to imply that the proper way to respond to such injustice is through non-violent civil disobedience.
King’s “I Have A Dream” is an honest, sincere and powerful speech that did not only touch the blacks, but its message resonated to every culture around the world. His excruciating experiences of racial discrimination, knowledge of the Constitution, brilliant use of language and genuine sympathy for his fellow blacks have made his speech one of the most powerful rethoric in American history.
King, Marthin Luther. “I Have A Dream.” Web. 11 July 2015. <http://www.archives.gov/press/exhibits/dream-speech.pdf>
“Did Martin Luther King achieve his life’s dream?” BBC. Web. 11 July 2015. <http://www.bbc.co.uk/timelines/z86tn39>
“Martin King Luther Jr. Biography.” Nobelprize.org. Web. 11 July 2015. <http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/1964/king-bio.html>