Rhetorical Analysis Of Martin Luther King's I Have A Dream Speech

907 words - 4 pages

Rhetoric: "The use of words by human agents to form attitudes or induce actions in other human agents....The use of language as a symbolic means of inducing cooperation in human beings that by nature respond to symbols." If Kenneth Burke is correct, then I would propose that speakers who use the technique of Rhetoric properly will thoroughly "induce" their listeners to action. Perhaps no other speech nor speaker eloquently used rhetoric, amongst other speaking techniques, to evict such emotion, persuasion, and call to action as the "I Have a Dream" speech by Martin Luther King Jr. However, his speech is not praised for mere rhetoric alone. King paints his speech with vivid " theme" words, quotations, and allusions leaving the listener with a striking and unifying message.
It is 1963* and one of the most historic demonstrations for equality has just taken place. Martin Luther King Jr.'s setting is the memorial of the President who has defeated the Southern states and the issues of slavery once before. In the introduction, King effectively uses a play on words, "Five score years ago" to not only salute former President Lincoln's famous address and nod at the fact that one hundred years ago the blacks were promised to be free. He begins with a narration that reminds us of a "Great American" that signed the Emancipation Proclamation. At first, his tone describes happier times at the signing of the proclamation, but his tone quickly changes to a darker reality: almost one hundred years later, the blacks are still not free.
A former Baptist minister, King recites his speech like a trained theologian in a style much like a sermon, pausing here and there for effect and poignancy. His pace is slow and timely in the beginning, but builds to an emotional and passionate tone, thundering with determinism. The goals of King's speech is clear. While stating these goals, King calls the listener to action. There are multiple goals, but three broad ideas are unmistakable: refusal of the present conditions of equality, refusal of the idleness of politicians and his people, and refusal the of violence or despairing.
To describe his refusal of the injustice and inequality, Martin does not merely refer to it, but employs the *use of a solid illustration: the nation is handing the blacks their promised "check" for "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness". Yet in the present conditions, the check is deemed a bad check and marked with "insufficient fund". Martin Luther King Jr. uses this analogy to describe that though they were promised equality, America has "defaulted on its promissory note." But he continues the analogy determined, remarking that he refuses to believe that America has gone "bankrupt"...

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