Speech by Martin Luther King Jr. I Have a Dream: Rhetorical Analysis

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5 min read

Published: Oct 22, 2018

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Words: 907|Page: 1|5 min read

Published: Oct 22, 2018

Essay grade:
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Introduction: On the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. presented his speech advocating for the freedom and equality of all races in front of over 250,000 people. His “I Have A Dream” speech became widely known for demonstrating the power of rhetoric that left an impact on America. Through the use of allusions, metaphors, and repetition, King was able to influence Americans to finally see that all men are created equal.

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Background: Drawing upon years of public speaking experience, King knew an emotional speech would have greater impact upon a large, outdoor crowd rather than a political one. Topic sentence: By making allusions to the Declaration of Independence by citing “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” and “we hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.” he was able to specifically appeal to listeners’ patriotism. America should embody freedom and symbolize a time of new beginnings. Although the American dream is freedom and justice and liberty for all, it was not true for African Americans during the time. He reminds people about the foundations and morals of which America was built upon and stresses the importance of an individual’s human rights. He states that beneath skin color, we are all the same. We are all human. Commentary: By alluding to the Declaration, King is able to present a beautiful and compelling vision of equality.

Topic sentence: Dr. King uses metaphors to help explain to the audience the need for equality for all races. Evidence & citing: He elaborates his argument about the lack of civil rights in a banking metaphor: “America has given the N* people a bad check, a check which has come back marked ‘insufficient funds.’ But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt.” Through his metaphor he suggests that people come to America in order to gain opportunities at a better chance at life however, people of color are unable to do so due to the unjust laws. He himself along with other African Americans refuse to accept this fate and abide by the unfair rules placed by people who do not understand what it feels like to be judged before even opening their mouth and uttering a sound. Commentary: He believes that there is hope for the country and that America has room to change and grow however, in order to so, people must speak up. Everywhere in King’s speech, there is a demonstration of some sort of call to action. King wants people to realize how unfair the system is and that they should not allow for it to continue. In a nation of unjust laws, he encourages people to rise up and demonstrate their freedom.

Throughout his speech, King repeats certain phrases such as “we can never be satisfied”, “let freedom ring”, and most the most iconic “I have a dream”. Commentary: The intensity of King’s speech is built through bold statements and rhythmic repetition. Each repetition builds on the one before and is reinforced by Martin Luther King’s increasing passion. The phrase resonates with the listener and leaves them with ideas that they will easily remember. As the speech comes to a close, the pace of his repetition increases, helping to build to a crescendo.

Conclusion paragraph: While the “I Have a Dream” speech is splendid in terms of its use of imagery and thought-provoking phrases, the speech is highly emotional in tone. King did not want the African American people to lose sight of the dream of complete freedom which was possible only when granted the same rights as the whites in American society. However, he was also cautious the protest must not degenerate into physical violence or adopt methods that lack dignity. Years have passed since King spoke but the passion in his words gives the African Americans hope and energy to continue their struggle until they have achieved the same position as white people and can live a life of equal dignity in American society.

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Be the change you want to see in the world. In order for there to be a change, people have to step up and discuss the topics that deserved to be talked about; and that is exactly what Martin Luther King Jr. did. He was a remarkable man that inspired thousands. He was not afraid to confront the problems at hand and figure out ways to change them and he encouraged others to do the same. King’s words and actions were able to make a mark in America and change history. His message of equality is still heard in our society today.

Introduction close-button

Should follow an “upside down” triangle format, meaning, the writer should start off broad and introduce the text and author or topic being discussed, and then get more specific to the thesis statement.

Background close-button

Provides a foundational overview, outlining the historical context and introducing key information that will be further explored in the essay, setting the stage for the argument to follow.

Topic sentence close-button

The topic sentence serves as the main point or focus of a paragraph in an essay, summarizing the key idea that will be discussed in that paragraph.

Evidence & citing close-button

The body of each paragraph builds an argument in support of the topic sentence, citing information from sources as evidence.


After each piece of evidence is provided, the author should explain HOW and WHY the evidence supports the claim.

Conclusion paragraph close-button

Should follow a right side up triangle format, meaning, specifics should be mentioned first such as restating the thesis, and then get more broad about the topic at hand. Lastly, leave the reader with something to think about and ponder once they are done reading.


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Martin Luther King Jr Essay Outline


  • Overview of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech and its historical significance
  • Mention of King’s use of rhetorical devices to influence and inspire his audience

Use of Allusions

  • Discussion of King’s allusions to the Declaration of Independence and their impact on the audience’s patriotism and sense of moral values
  • Emphasis on how these allusions contribute to the vision of equality

Use of Metaphors

  • Explanation of King’s metaphors, particularly the banking metaphor, to convey the need for civil rights and justice
  • Analysis of how metaphors strengthen King’s argument and call to action

Repetition for Emphasis

  • Examination of King’s use of repetition in phrases like “we can never be satisfied,” “let freedom ring,” and “I have a dream”
  • Explanation of how repetition builds intensity and reinforces key ideas in the speech

Tone and Passion

  • Discussion of the emotional tone of the speech and King’s careful balance between passion and dignity
  • Emphasis on the lasting impact of King’s words and his role in inspiring change


  • Recap of Martin Luther King Jr.’s influence and legacy
  • Affirmation of the importance of addressing social issues and striving for change, as demonstrated by King


  1. Weitzel, A. (1994). King’s “I have a dream”; speech: A case study of incorporating orality in rhetorical criticism. Communication Reports, 7(1), 50-56. (
  2. Zheng, S. (2014). A Stylistic Analysis on” I have a dream”. Journal of Studies in social Sciences, 9(1). (
  3. Weitzel, A. R. (1991). A Pedagogical Treatment of King’s” I Have a Dream” Speech: Toward Incorporating Orality in Rhetorical Criticism. (
  4. Lei, E. V., & Miller, K. D. (1999). Martin Luther King, Jr.’s” I Have a Dream” in Context: Ceremonial Protest and African American Jeremiad. College English, 62(1), 83-99. (
  5. Alvarez, A. (1988). Martin Luther King’s” I Have a Dream” The Speech Event as Metaphor. Journal of Black Studies, 18(3), 337-357. (
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Expert Review
This essay analyzes Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous "I Have A Dream" speech. While the writer effectively summarizes the key components of the speech, there are some areas for improvement. The organization of the essay could be more cohesive, with better transitions between paragraphs. Additionally, the essay's voice could be more active and engaging for the reader. However, the essay has good focus and sentence structure, with only minor grammatical errors.
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What can be improved
The essay's introduction provides a good summary of the speech's significance and sets the stage for the analysis. However, the essay would benefit from a clear thesis statement outlining the main argument or purpose of the essay. The first body paragraph discusses King's use of allusions, metaphors, and repetition to appeal to his audience's patriotism and emphasize the importance of human rights. While this paragraph provides some evidence to support the argument, it lacks a clear topic sentence and could benefit from more analysis of how these rhetorical devices contribute to King's overall message.The second body paragraph focuses on King's use of metaphors to illustrate the need for racial equality. The writer effectively explains how King's banking metaphor demonstrates the unfairness of the system and highlights the need for change. However, the paragraph could benefit from a clearer transition between the previous paragraph and more analysis of how this metaphor contributes to King's overall message.The third body paragraph discusses King's use of repetition and how it builds intensity and reinforces his message. While the writer provides good examples of King's repeated phrases, the paragraph could benefit from more analysis of how repetition contributes to King's overall message.The conclusion effectively summarizes the essay's main points and provides a clear statement on King's impact. However, the paragraph could be more engaging for the reader and offer a more compelling final thought.Overall, the essay has good focus and sentence structure, with only minor grammatical errors. However, the essay's organization could be more cohesive, with better transitions between paragraphs. Additionally, the essay's voice could be more active and engaging for the reader. To improve the essay, the writer could consider developing a clear thesis statement, analyzing how each rhetorical device contributes to King's overall message, and providing a more engaging conclusion.

Cite this Essay

Speech by Martin Luther King Jr. I Have a Dream: Rhetorical Analysis. (2023, February 28). GradesFixer. Retrieved April 22, 2024, from
“Speech by Martin Luther King Jr. I Have a Dream: Rhetorical Analysis.” GradesFixer, 28 Feb. 2023,
Speech by Martin Luther King Jr. I Have a Dream: Rhetorical Analysis. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 22 Apr. 2024].
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