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Analysis of Rhetorical Strategies in The Letter from Birmingham Jail by Martin Luther King Jr

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Dr. Martin Luther King’s letter from Birmingham Jail came as a response to his critics, especially the clergymen who denounced all his activities citing that they tantamount to incitement and unrest in the society. However, King had an answer to all their concerns and stated that his actions were in the best interest of the society, including those who opposed him. To this effect, the letter from the Jail was intended to explain to the public about his motivation for activism and resistance to the government’s rule. Indeed, he used this letter as a communication tool to convince the public that his acts were well-informed and that he cared about them than his interest. To this effect, there are several aspects of appeal that King integrated into the letter to pass his message across the divide. These argument strategies helped to reinforce his message across the audience spectra, thereby challenging the notions of his critics that he was using such resistance to sabotage the government.

Principally, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr relied on the use of allusion to give credence to his actions, and to further restate his position about the civil disobedience that he was championing in America. In providing answers to the clergymen, King alluded to some philosophers whose ideologies perfectly resonated with his stance about equality and freedom from oppression. Some of the philosophers that he alluded to include Socrates and the Aquinas. MLK steered clear of this matter and challenged the critics to read the works of these philosophers, which he believed would significantly change their attitude towards him. The use of allusion was a powerful strategy that King adopted to persuade the public and the clerics that his fight was propagated by a desire to liberate the public against the imperial government that only recognized a few white elites. Notably, King’s argument is premised on Kantian ethics, which I believe played a fundamental role in swaying the public towards him. Both Kantian and King’s ideologies were affixed on one objective; the Civil Rights Movement as a way of ensuring complete freedom.

Other than the allusions used, MLK employs the use of ethos to effectively communicate his agenda to the clergymen. In this letter, King introduces it by first imploring the clergymen, and categorically reiterates that “My Dear Fellow Clergymen.” This quoted statement implies a point of commonality. Despite the clergymen terming his action as unwise and uncalled for, King was keen to ethically appeal to their emotions by simply putting himself at par with the clergy. Using an ethical appeal by referring to the contesting clerics as fellow clergymen, King was keen to develop a more nuanced approach to appeal to the clergies and again denounce their position that he was contributing to the lawlessness in the region. Moreover, King stated that he was in Birmingham for a legitimate course, and due to the ongoing injustice, he decided to risk it all for the people. Such sentiments have a special appeal in connection to the region’s longstanding social imbalances and violence.

Moreover, King relies on the logos to appeal to his audience, who was at first not convinced about his roadmap to fighting inequality in the region. However, King employs various logical appeals and explains some historical figures who were in his circumstance, but later succeeded in accomplishing their missions. At some point, King referred to Adolf Hitler as a leader whose actions were prompted by a desire to secure justice to his people. On the same note, King provides examples of historical figures who gave their all to fight for an extremist cause; the likes of Amos, Paul, and even Jesus Christ fought to create a just law. In this respect, his points are logically appealing and have avid support from extremist leaders who used various means to restore people’s freedom and peace.

Finally, Martin Luther King aggregates his speech by employing pathos to further convince his audience. An ideal course of this action relates to his action when he challenges the clergymen to be on the right side of history, and that they need to support his mission instead of castigating his work. In all the scenarios discussed in this essay, King’s letter touched the hearts of many people, who were initially against his freedom movement.

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