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Martin Luther King Jr.’s ”I Have a Dream” and Old Major’s in ”Animal Farm”

Should the path to equality be violent or peaceful? Many would choose the path of peace because it is moral and orderly, while equality achieved by violence is controversial and unethical. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous speech, “I Have a Dream,” and Old Major’s speech from Animal Farm has the same message of wanting equality, though in different ways. In Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech, he advocates peaceful change in fighting for black people’s equality in America. However, in Old Major’s speech, he supported equality through rebellion and violent change. King and Old Major use a similar structure in their speeches advocating for equality; however, they differ in the achievement of justice, usages of rhetorical devices, and what happens after when justice is achieved.

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King and Old Major both use a similar structure in their speeches. Both speeches focus on the current sufferings of victims by discrimination and injustice and then switch to dreams and visions of a better future. In his speech, King exhibits how black people get inadequate treatment from the government by describing America’s way of treating its black citizens as giving “…the Negro people a bad check; a check which has come back marked ‘insufficient funds.’”

However, King not only states the problems, but he also moves on to describe his dream of a better future. King dreams of a country of equality for both black and white people. He states, “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.” In order to achieve the dream, King asks for a peaceful demand for justice. King warns, “[l]et us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.” King believes change should not happen with brutality as violence against violence is not the correct answer. He further strengthens his idea by saying, “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.”

Old Major, however, does not agree with the idea of peaceful change. Old Major’s speech follows a similar format to King’s speech. He begins with the sufferings of animals under humans, how animals are “slaughtered with hideous cruelty” (Orwell, 2020), and the fact that “[n]o animal in England knows the meaning of happiness or leisure after he is a year old” (Orwell, 2020). He concludes, “The life of an animal is misery and slavery: that is the plain truth.” (Orwell, 2020). Old Major then gives his visions for a better future, where Man is removed from the picture, and animals are free. Therefore, he rejects the idea of peaceful cohabitation of humans and animals altogether.

When it comes to rhetorical devices, both speeches appeal to ethos, logos, and pathos, which is a prerequisite for a persuasive, moving, and convincing public speech. From the very beginning, Martin Luther King establishes his authority to address the subject matter. By the time when his “I have a dream” speech took place, he had already grown to be the most prominent spokesperson for the civil rights movement. Thus, when he appeared during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963, he already had weight in society, and he had followers who supported his work.

Martin Luther King ushers the listener into the world of his envisioning by stating the historical importance of the event where his speech is being delivered: “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.” To further establish the reliability of his argument, King refers to the great leaders of the past who laid the foundation of the free and democratic states. The speaker insists that it was their intention that their ideas would be translated forward into the future; yet, they are downtrodden in the muddle of social struggle, racism, and segregation.

Similarly, Old Major uses his reputation to propagate his argument against the oppressive presence of the man. In The Animal Farm, by the moment when his speech is delivered, Old Major has been governing the city for quite a long time, earning its residents’ trust and respect. The character uses ethos again when he refers to how long he has been living on this Earth and contemplating humans’ atrocities. As part of building up ethos, Old Major and King use allusion: the former refers to a song titled “The Beast of England.” The latter, in turn, mentions a plethora of foundational documents such as the Emancipation Proclamation, the Constitution, and the Declaration of Independence.

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As for pathos, both Old Major and King seek to appeal to the listeners’ emotions, engage them, and spark further conversation. However, the two speakers achieve their goal by using different stylistic devices. For instance, the pathos of Old Major’s speech relies heavily on rhetorical questions – a device used to capture and keep the public’s attention. He asks animals “what [they have] ever had except [their] bare rations and a stall (Orwell, 2020).” Old Major further solidifies the emotional persuasiveness of his argument by using repetition: “[Man] does not give milk, [Man] does not lay eggs (Orwell, 2020).” King’s speech, on the other hand, is richer in metaphors such as “seared in the flames of withering injustice”, “quicksands of racial injustice”, and “sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent.”

Logos are present in both speeches; yet, its use is different. King uses logos primarily to convince his audience to reject violence and continue their fight for freedom “on the high plane of dignity and discipline.” Old Major, on the other hand, uses facts and logic to further fuel animals’ hatred toward humans. For instance, the speaker emphasizes the weakness of the man without his animals, pointing out that it was only due to deceit and exploitation that the man has gained all his power.

The leader of the civil rights movement, Martin Luther King and Old Major, created by the writer George Orwell, authored two of the most moving and persuasive speeches in history. Both speakers pursue similar goals – the liberation and prosperity of their people. However, if King disdains violence, Old Major sees it as the only means to emancipation. King and Old Major demonstrate a masterful use of ethos, pathos, and logos, which makes their speeches especially effective. Yet, the stylistic devices that they use to develop these rhetorical elements vary: while Old Major mostly uses rhetorical questions and repetitions, King is known for his rich metaphors and similes.


Orwell, G. (2020). Animal Farm. Leya.

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