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

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One of the historical movements to which Dr. King compares the civil rights movement is the movement that was led by Elijah Mohammad. Elijah Mohammed and Martin Luther King Jr. had extremely similar aspects in their movements and both contributed a lot to society in their own ways. However, the difference between them was that King advocated for nonviolent direct action and passive resistance to achieve civil rights, while Elijah Mohammad was a spokesman for the Nation of Islam and advocated in a more violent way, rejecting white Americans calling them the devils of the world and preached for black supremacy. The reason MLK mentioned Elijah’s movement in his letter from Birmingham Jail is to dispute the criticism he’s been getting about his movement being “extreme” and pointing out how it’s not so by comparing the Negroes that are advocating violence while he’s doing the exact opposite. In addition, King also compares himself to the Hungarians in the National Socialism movement that was led by Hitler. He symbolizes Hitler as the white supremacist that is racist towards black people and the Hungarians as the Negroes that are participating in MLK’s nonviolent movement against segregation. MLK used that movement as an analogy/example of what is happening in America and comparing it to how similar it is to what was happening in Germany during World War II.

In the first paragraph, Martin Luther King Jr. came off with a peaceful and professional tone. The irony in the first paragraph is King Jr. being in jail with nothing to do and stating how if he answers to all the disagreements had been sacrificing time from his work. “If I sought to answer all the criticisms that cross my desk, my secretaries would be engaged in little else in the day, and I would have no time for constructive work”. Though King is looked up behind bars he still mentions how busy he is participating in nonviolent demonstrations against segregation.

King is engaging the white clergy in the US. His references to biblical figures excite the moral obligations that white clergy have in supporting his motivation just as the leniency and compassion requested by the Bible all through the book. The ethos and feeling of scriptural figures and occasions have a solid effect and viability to the readers. Since King is a Christian he utilizes scriptural figures to indicate strength. When he is clarifying the contrast among just and unreasonable laws, he specifies St. Thomas Aquinas who said that ‘an unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law’ in light of the fact that St. Thomas Aquinas is a scriptural figure of power to the Christians. In paragraph 16, King likewise makes reference to Paul Tillich, a Christian existentialist scholar, who said that detachment was a transgression. When King makes reference to Tillich, there is a feeling of power towards Tillich. Since Tillich says that partition is a transgression, King suggests that isolation and segregation is additionally a wrongdoing. Besides, King legitimizes his activities against unfair laws by referencing that early Christians didn’t submit to the unjust laws of the Roman Empire.

The clergy have demonstrated that challenges, including any demonstrations of common noncompliance, can bring about savagery and potentially mobocracy. King takes a few paragraphs to clarify in an orderly, intelligent manner the techniques for a peaceful crusade. In paragraph 6, for instance, he sets out the four basic steps each attentive and restrained. In the following paragraphs, he clarifies the political atmosphere of Birmingham and how he and his locale have been aware of the people and occasions in that network. His nitty gritty and rational clarification of theory and technique suggests that the peaceful battle is the direct opposite of dissents that demonstration steeply without respect for the outcomes. Structure pursues work for this situation; the deliberate clarification mirrors the efficient procedure being clarified. Lord clarifies the fundamental standards and the procedure of the peaceful challenge developments all together for the peruser to comprehend his perspective. Regularly a protest sounds loud, vexing, and ruthless. In any case, King was truly attempting to underscore the way that he has no aim of inciting fierce reactions, thusly his redundancy of peaceful challenges was perceptible. He wanted to mark the idea of fighting for your beliefs and rights, in a peaceful honorable manner.

Throughout this letter, Martin Luther King Jr. begins by supporting his hasty and inauspicious reason through different focuses demonstrated fundamentally through ethos and logos. Despite the fact that it appears to be educated and just, it doesn’t append the peruser to what he is attempting to depict about his activities. The long sentence in Paragraph 14 is the central matter Martin Luther King Jr. legitimizes all that he is accomplishing for the equity he looks for. As it being a feeling driven part it opens the reader to really observe his intentions. As different strategies for talk, emotion catches the group of spectators in an amazing manner. With the manner in which he composed the letter it carries the group of spectators to pass on his activities initially by what they need legitimize as legitimate and after that let them feel why he does it. This intermittent sentence is the quintessential case of structure converging with substance. King stresses time and desperation by the redundancy of ‘when’ and the gathering of provisos specifying the shameful acts Negroes have persevered. One approach to take a gander at the structure is that King starts with progressively broad circumstances ‘twenty million Negro siblings covering in a sealed shut pen of destitution’, pushes toward increasingly close to home ones that include ‘your six-year-old-little girl’ and ‘your significant other and mother,’ and finishes back with a bigger feeling of the character of a people who are ‘harried by day and frequented by night.’ Overall, King utilizes distinctive detail to paint what is basically a progression of vignettes in these subordinate conditions.

From the 16th paragraph an arrangement which demonstrates the logos behind it tends to be seen from the accompanying entries. Martin Luther King Jr. presents his concept of what is simply and unreasonable by the information he has with respect. ‘A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God.’ Clearly we can see that King’s letter is factual and though some may see it as one sided or biased, he does not fail to mention the sequence of events leading to his confinement and exigence. A syllogism is a contention which leads the group of spectators to think something through the realities set previously. Martin Luther King Jr. drives the reader into seeing why he legitimizes his activities by the manner in which he respects the laws set in the United States of America by the 1950s. King uses many facts and refers back to the bible or famous sayings and even some events that have occurred because of the same problem.

There have been many rhetorical strategies that MLK used in the Letter From Birmingham Jail:

  • Rhetorical question: He asks a progressing sequence of rhetorical questions followed by quotations that give the answers to those questions.
  • Repetition: He repeats words like “extremist” and “was not”.
  • Comparison: He gives examples of extremists other than himself, such as, “Paul”, “Martin Luther” in each question and shows how they all have something in common which is goodwill.
  • Antithesis: Then he uses antithesis in the last two sentences asking “will we be extremists for hate or extremist for love?” to emphasize that even if he was an extremist he is an extremist of good intentions, unlike the white people who think they are more superior.
  • Allusion: He alludes to Jesus and biblical events.

After numerous sections of complex linguistic structure and elaborately built arguments, King comes back to a peaceful tone fortified by more straightforward punctuation and positive language and imagery. Paragraph 48 has its incongruity as King focuses out that had he not been restricted in prison, the letter probably won’t have been for such a long time, yet the incongruity is delicate, as he delineates himself ‘alone in a narrow jail cell’ where he has the opportunity to compose long letters, think long considerations, and implore long petitions. In the penultimate paragraph, he offers a gesture to an offense he may have given to the ministry, begging them to pardon him. In any case, at that point, he makes the primary concern of his whole letter which is that he is carrying on of promise to a higher law that ought to administer everybody’s conduct, surely that of the pastorate. King finishes up with a non-literal language of foreboding shadows and profound mist passing endlessly as “radiant stars … shine” in their place. Likewise, he finishes by focusing on their collegial tie, that of fraternity, siblings who work together in the reason for Peace.

Throughout the whole letter, Martin Luther King describes how unlawful and unfair segregation is to explain why the peaceful protest that was going on is not illegal or civil indiscipline yet they are important for the better of society. In the second-to-last paragraph, MLK uses sarcasm and annoyance when he mentions how long the letter was and him being in jail. “I’m afraid that it is much too long to take your precious time. I would assure you it would have been much shorter if I had been writing from a comfortable desk.” In addition, he mentions how lonely and dark it felt when he was in jail right after to show that he is not sorry for how big his letter was due to how poorly they have been treating him.

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