There are a number of speeches that were delivered by various people in the history of America. “I Have a Dream” is a speech in history that was conveyed by Martin Luther King at the Lincoln Memorial. King was compelled in his address to talk about black Americans who had not gotten liberty, about injustice and inequality since he was of the same race and understood their struggles (Bajri et al. 40). Even though slavery was abolished, African Americans are still not free. Slavery and its aftermath are always felt through discrimination in the United States. King uses powerful rhetoric to show African Americans a new direction and urges them to stand united. Being a great advocate of Mahatma Gandhi’s ideas, such as the necessity of non-violence, his wish was that blacks and whites could live together in harmony (Rocker 2). King imagined a future where people of color and whites shared space to create a society free from discrimination and a stronger nation. King’s powerful use of various literary devices is noticeable. This essay focuses on how King used literary devices such as rhetoric, pathos, ethos, logos, similes, metaphors, personification, and hyperbole to achieve his purpose of the speech.
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Audience and Purpose
Martin Luther King’s speech was conveyed at the time of civic rights movements and turned out to be one of the most influential speeches. The public speech was delivered to a large number of civil rights supporters. His eloquence in speech was impeccably suited to both his primary and secondary addressees. King delivered his speech to thousands of people who came from diverse backgrounds. He referred to both whites and blacks as his friends, which made the address accessible because of its welcoming gesture. His listeners shared a common dream and racial impartiality. The discourse portrays King’s hope for justice and equal treatment of all people. The purpose of Martin Luther’s speech was to call for economic and civil rights improvement and end racism in America (Rocker 1). “I Have a Dream” utilized several appeals to convince its audience of a need for interventions to end racial oppression. King correctly applied rhetorical appeals such as pathos, ethos, and logos.
The use of facts, reason, and figures to attract an audience is termed as logos. On several occasions, King utilized it in his speech as a means of persuasion. He used a metaphor of an uncashed check to address the plight of Black Americans to his audience (Henton). In paragraphs 4 and 5, King presents a cheque which is to be cashed only to find it has insufficient funds. He does not seem to believe that the bank of justice can be bankrupt (Henton). The analogy of the bad cheque requires the audience to use their logic. King refers to how African Americans cannot book a room in a hotel because of their skin color, which challenges the audience’s logic of freedom. He proceeds to use history to appeal to the listeners (Henton). To exemplify the Declaration of Independence, King used a promissory note. In the declaration, all men, both white or black, had a guarantee of the inalienable rights of liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and life (Henton). However, being denied the right to freedom and justice, the Declaration of Independence failed to meet the expectations of African Americans. Thus, as King appeals to the addressees using history and analogy of the “promissory note,” he hopes the listeners could connect with the equivalence.
Martin Luther King emoloyed pathos in “I Have a Dream” to affect the emotions of the congregation. Pathos is a quality in literature which can evoke sadness or pity (Bajri et al. 40). King invokes the prospective parents’ feelings when he urges their children not to be exposed to their self-hood. He awakened the listeners emotionally and they chanted about their future and generations to come (Bajri et al. 42). He explains how poor the living conditions of African Americans were, which evokes pity. His emotional appeal grows when he speaks about the blacks’ rights and liberty and how they have been denied (Bajri et al. 43). Martin’s speech grows with energy and passion as he proceeds. Moreover, it carries an urgent tone as he speaks about the various torture which African Americans have endured as they struggled for freedom and equality.
Ethos describes the beliefs and ideals which distinguish a person, institution, or nation. Therefore, ethos can be referred to as an appeal to ethics (Rocker 4). King uses his authority as an activist of the civil rights to aim at America’s population’s morality. He uses the documents which are fundamental to America such as the Constitution and Declaration of Independence to imprint the authority in his speech (Rocker 6). Luther believes that all people are equal and the treatment of black Americans is unjust. He pleads with the hearers to advocate for justice and equality, which are considered ethical principles. Martin Luther incorporates several biblical passages to plea to the listeners about the moral code. For instance, Kings says that both whites and blacks will join their hands and glorify the old Negro spiritually (Rocker 6). It is a clear illustration of the ethical principle that all people are equal and deserve parity despite their skin color.
Simile, Personification, and Metaphor
A simile is a literary device which involves comparing one thing with another. In “I Have a Dream”, Martin Luther King employed some similes to bring clarity. They are used to make the concepts of speech more potent by comparing them to other concepts. Josiah et al. quotes King’s saying, “we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteous man like a mighty stream” (43). Justice has been compared to waters. Martin Luther King uses personification to show the need for change. According to Josiah et al. the United States is personified by King when he says, “he has a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of the creed” (46). Josiah et al also state that King used the metaphors such as “architects of our republic” to compare the founding fathers with someone who creates buildings’ design (52). Clearly, Martin has utilized a number of literary devices especially the metaphors, similes, and personification to communicate distinctly with his listeners in a manner that they can relate.
In conclusion, “I Have a Dream” speech illustrates the way various literary devices have been used to achieve the purpose. However, the rhetorical appeals of ethos, logos, and pathos have been put to use majorly. Martin Luther argues why there should be equal treatment to all people despite the racial differences. His speech presents the demand for justice for black Americans. He tries to persuade the congregation by using figures, reason, and facts of the plight of blacks. Indeed, King perfectly used rhetorical devices to achieve his purpose in “I Have a Dream”.
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Bajri, Ibtesam AbdulAziz, and Layla Mohammad Mariesel. “Discourse Analysis on Martin Luther King’s Speech I Have a Dream.” Journal of Linguistics and Literature, vol. 4, no. 1, 2020, pp. 40–44.
Henton, Lesley. “Why ‘I Have A Dream’ Remains One Of History’s Greatest Speeches”. Texas A&M Today, 2020.
Josiah, Ubong E., and Gift Oghenerho. “Pragmatic Analyses of Martin Luther King (Jr)’s Speech: I Have a Dream–An Introspective Prognosis.” Journal of Education and Practice, vol. 6, no. 17, 2015, pp. 43–52.
Rocker, Mandi. “Martin Luther King Jr. Rhetorical Analysis.” Emerging Writers, vol. 1, no. 14, 2018, pp. 1–7.