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Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” address falls under the broad genre of non-fiction persuasive prose in the form of a speech. It is broadly targeted at all American citizens; black and white civil rights activists, as well as members of society who are against the Civil Rights Movement. Looking at the structure and content, the speech was presented at a formal event. Its main purpose is to expose the American citizens to the injustice of racial inequality and persuade them to stop discriminating based on race; it is a call for equality and freedom. This essay will analyze how the text has been used effectively in a persuasive manner. The most obvious persuasive techniques used in his speech is anaphora. This is specifically evident at the beginning of the first three paragraphs; “I have a dream”; King uses Anaphora to engage the audience in an emotional experience. King’s listeners can predict the next line and thus persuades the audience by drawing them into his words through a sense of participation. They are more aware of what is coming next and are more receptive to the emotion of solidarity that King is trying to get across. This specific phrase; “I have a dream” is also persuasive, as a dream is motivational, but it is only meaningful unless acted upon; which is exactly what King demonstrates throughout his speech.
In the first three paragraphs King paints an image of what his dream looks like and in the last two paragraphs, expresses how to act on this dream to make it meaningful. King’s choice of diction here, makes his speech persuasive. The repeated word “dream” points to King’s purpose of his speech; to illustrate his dream further and create unity. However, his dream is merely a dream until the audience adopts mutual feelings on this controversial issue. King makes use of parallel structure by, repeating grammatical structures. For example, in the first two paragraphs, after each repeated phrase “one day”, King follows with the words “shall be” or “will be” followed by a verb, calling his listeners to action. For example; “black boys and black girls will be able to join hands”, “every valley shall be exalted”, “the rough places will be made plain” and “the glory of the Lord shall be revealed”. Parallelism is also evident in paragraph four; after repetition of; “with this faith”, King follows with an infinitive phrase; “to” followed by a verb, for example; “to work together”, “to pray together” and “to struggle together”. This illustrates literal unity while creating a cohesive text and is a sophisticated and emotive example of parallelism. Using parallelism makes complex thoughts easier to process while still holding the listeners’ attention and by using constant repetition it encourages participation and makes the phrases within the speech more likely to be remembered. Thus, King uses parallelism as a persuasive technique.
King persuades his audience by making his speech relatable in many ways. Firstly, he grounds his logical argument by making specific geographical references, for example; “down in Alabama” and “I go back to the South”, a persuasive technique used to make his message more inclusive and evoke emotions and images for his audience. Secondly, King uses biblical allusions based on his ministerial, faith-based roots, for example; “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together”. Thus, King’s opinions are presented as facts and makes the listener accept these as absolute truths. King also uses biblical diction for example, “faith”, “Lord” and “God” to provide a deeper understanding of his purpose by referencing something that is familiar. Thirdly, King uses the first-person pronoun “I” to add emphasis to his purpose and build a personal connection with his listeners. This helps persuade his listeners of his viewpoint. King also makes use of the first person singular pronoun “I” to exclude the listeners from his dream but then includes his listeners in the second last paragraph by using the first person plural pronouns “our” and “we”; “We will be able to transform the jangling discords or our nation”, speaking on behalf of the audience and expressing that it is everyone’s hope to live in freedom. It is also persuasive in making his listener’s think about their personal responsibility.
Lastly, King involves himself, expressing that they are all one, for example; “sisters and brothers”, “all flesh” and “God’s children”. King uses imagery throughout his speech to display the hardships African Americans have faced and the future they hope to achieve. Imagery is used to allow his listeners to relate and understand his ideas. For example; King uses landscape imagery; “Every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low”; valleys symbolizing segregation and a low point which is difficult to escape. Mountains and hills symbolizing barriers and obstacles that need to be overcome. However, King does not only address the difficulties that the audience faces but also the future rewards of their efforts; “And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together”. Thus, persuading his listeners to be discontent with the inequalities and push towards a future of freedom.
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