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

989 words - 4 pages

In a period of time where few were willing to listen, Martin Luther King, Jr. stood proudly, gathered and held the attention of over 200,000 people. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech was very effective and motivational for African Americans in 1963. Many factors affected Kings’ speech in a very positive manner; the great emotion behind the words, delivering the speech on the steps of the memorial of the President who defeated slavery. And not only was this message beautifully written for the hope of African Americans, but the underlying message for white people, revolution and peace. To stimulate emotion from both parties of his listeners, King used a selection of rhetorical devices such as allusions to historical documents, metaphors, similes, anaphoras and others.

Martin Luther King’s use of allusions to historical documents helps his message of equality hit home for his audience. Most of the allusions were geared more towards the white people that it was towards the blacks because it provided printed evidence from past documents that were written by white males. His first, “Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation” is an allusion to Abraham Lincoln and the Gettysburg Address. His first reference to the Declaration of Independence: “This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men would be guaranteed the ‘unalienable rights’ of ‘Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness’.” Another quote King uses from the Declaration of Independence is not quite as publicized, King incidentally slips in, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” King also makes a few allusions to the Bible; “Justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream,” is the first allusion to the Bible in King’s speech. The simile itself is one of the relentlessness, power and inevitability of a great stream and hence, of the effects of justice as well. This is King's way of calling for an unstoppable justice to prevail. Kings next allusion to the Bible; “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh see it together,” just hammers his message of equality in. Another non biblical allusion would be “sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent” which is a reference to one of Shakespeare’s plays.

In addition to King’s uses of allusions, the speech contains many contrasting metaphors and similes that influence his audience very effectively. He begins by pointing out that even though Negros are freed from slavery, they are still slaves “crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination.” King then goes on about how “America has given the negro people a bad check” whereas the check in this instance symbolizes their right to equality because the mistreatment of the Negroes and racial discrimination is evident and the check “has come back...

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