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Analysis of Rhetorical Elements in I Have a Dream Speech of Martin Luther King Jr.

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Keywords: Martin Luther King, Jr.,I Have a Dream,American Civil War,Abraham Lincoln,Gettysburg Address,Emancipation Proclamation,African American,African-American Civil Rights Movement,United States,Slavery in the United States,Nonviolence

Over 250,000 people gathered around the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC on August 28, 1963 to listen to a speech that would be known as one of the greatest to ever be delivered. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech to express his view on African American inequalities. King used many rhetorical strategies that were exceptionally impactful to all of the audience such as allusion, repetition, and extended metaphors. King uses all of these throughout the whole speech allowing him to convey his message thoroughly and effectively.

Within the first few sentences of his speech King uses allusion to grasp the audience’s attention. “Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today signed the Emancipation Proclamation.” With this he alluded to Abraham Lincoln by using a memorable phrase that Lincoln himself is known for. He didn’t have to directly state that Lincoln was the president who signed the Emancipation Proclamation; therefore, having the audience engage and recognize that he was alluding to Lincoln himself. The symbolic shadow mentioned in his speech is also referring to Lincoln since they were literally standing in front of Lincoln’s memorial but King wanted the audience to acknowledge that they were also figuratively standing in Lincoln’s shadow. “Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.” With this King alluded to his strong belief in the use of nonviolence. His technique was derived from Mahatma Gandhi in India, a very influential person for King.

The “I Have a Dream” speech can be recognized by many just by the title. This is because the repetition of the phrase “I have a dream” used by King adequately conveys his purpose in seeking hope for the African Americans struggling with the inequalities they were facing. “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” This represents how his repetition was used for many reasons. This particular sentence shows that King was not only protesting for the people but for himself and his family as well. “Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania. Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado. Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California…” The repetition of the phrase “Let freedom ring” promotes clarity and encourages the acceptance of his proposal.

King carried out his speech with many powerful metaphorical comparisons that the audience was able to have an emotional connection to. “It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.” This metaphor is comparing the Emancipation Proclamation to a joyous daybreak and the long night as the many years of slavery they endured. By stating this he creates imagery for a sense of light that the Proclamation brought to the dark nights of slavery. “In a sense we have come to our nation’s capital to cash a check…” This is a short part of the extended metaphor that continues onto the fourth paragraph. With this metaphor he is stating that like a check the African Americans are going to receive what the U.S. promised to give them, freedom. The metaphors used throughout his essay are a main reason why his speech was so successful. He was able to connect with the audience and demonstrate his concerns and desires through comparisons that were coherent.

Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech legacy has and will continue to thrive, because of how excellent King executed it. His variety of rhetorical strategies presented throughout the speech help portray his goal to give African Americans the freedom and equality they deserved. His use of allusion, metaphors, and repetition enabled the audience to have such a reaction to his speech. The audience was able to see his passion for the topic through his meticulously thought out formal address. Overall, the emotional connection King was able to have with the audience represents his exceptional use of these rhetorical elements.

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Analysis Of Rhetorical Elements In I Have A Dream Speech Of Martin Luther King Jr. (2020, December 10). GradesFixer. Retrieved August 6, 2022, from
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