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Rhetorical Analysis of Martin Luther King Jr’s Letter from Birmingham Jail

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Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, Jesus, all these radical men and more are alluded to in Martin Luther King Jr’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” His use of their names in the context of this paper creates a form of kinship between the men and him, advocating for their disobedience against oppressive systems, while simultaneously defending his actions for the fight against segregation. By using various writing strategies, such as parallelism, comparison, and careful word choice, King powerfully displays the adversity in which black people lived in, defends his movement against those who would disagree, and effectively sets a mature and serious tone for him to argue in.

King goes on to describe his reasons for coming specifically to Birmingham to continue his protests, “Birmingham is probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States. Its ugly record of brutality is widely known. Negroes have experienced grossly unjust treatment in the courts. There have been more unsolved bombings of Negro homes and churches in Birmingham than in any other city in the nation…”. By introducing facts as grim as these to the audience, he helps to create empathy for his people and keep in justifying his actions. King further displays in painful detail what his people have had to live through with powerful lines such as, “when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters…” By using parallelism in the structure of the sentence, King is forcing the audience to envision the pain his friends and family had to endure in those hard times. Another example that he accomplishes this through is, “when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park… and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children…”. He uses bleak language such as “hate-filled policemen” and “closed to colored children” to paint an all-encompassing picture of what society black people had to live in. By hitting readers with anecdote after anecdote of the depressing trials his community has had to face, it not only leaves the audience to further sympathize and feel the vivid imagery he uses but also entices them to keep reading and find positive ways for systemic change.

He further justifies his movement of nonviolent protest by establishing his cause on the grounds of it impeding “immoral” and “unjust” laws. He accomplishes this by introducing dark moments in history where what was moral interfered with what was legal. He states, “We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was ‘legal’ and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was ‘illegal.’ It was ‘illegal’ to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler’s Germany. Even so, I am sure that, had I lived in Germany at the time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers”. By establishing such a powerful example of when what was considered moral contradicted with what was legal, it forces his intended audience to further question the viability that laws are always righteous in their intentions. He also draws a comparison to the heinous crimes committed against the Jewish community to those of the African American community. Although on a smaller scale, King still conveys the idea that unjust laws bread from hate leads to needless violence and death.

Throughout his essay, King strengthens his argument against his criticizers’ words by establishing a firm yet respectful tone to argue in. He addresses the main audience of the paper, eight white religious leaders of the South, by starting with “My Dear Fellow Clergymen”. By stating this, he politely places himself not above them, but rather equal as a way to invite conversation for his party. King subsequently goes on to close his paper with, “I hope this letter finds you strong in the faith. I also hope that circumstances will soon make it possible for me to meet each of you, not as an integrationist or a civil rights leader but as a fellow clergyman and a Christian brother”. King has gone through his entire argument as a response to those who have called out his actions “unwise” and “untimely” and rather than end on a bitter note, tactfully implores them to hear his argument out and invites further communication between them when he says, “I also hope that circumstances will soon make it possible for me to meet each of you”. This consistency in his tone creates a strong framework for him to settle his argument in. By keeping his words, reserved, honest, and always respectful, his argument comes across as sincere rather than an antagonistic complaint.

Throughout his essay, King shows the mistreatment his community had to live in due to unjust laws and calls out the immorality of having those laws remain. By using personal experiences, parallelism, and strong diction, he is able to create a sound, nuanced argument. He promotes sympathy in his audience through numerous anecdotes and demonstrates through historical examples the devastating impacts unjust laws have on marginalized people. All of this culminates as one big argument, advocating for immediate action in order to create a better world where equality can truly thrive.

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Rhetorical Analysis Of Martin Luther King Jr’s Letter From Birmingham Jail. (2021, March 18). GradesFixer. Retrieved August 6, 2022, from https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/rhetorical-analysis-of-martin-luther-king-jrs-letter-from-birmingham-jail/
“Rhetorical Analysis Of Martin Luther King Jr’s Letter From Birmingham Jail.” GradesFixer, 18 Mar. 2021, gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/rhetorical-analysis-of-martin-luther-king-jrs-letter-from-birmingham-jail/
Rhetorical Analysis Of Martin Luther King Jr’s Letter From Birmingham Jail. [online]. Available at: <https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/rhetorical-analysis-of-martin-luther-king-jrs-letter-from-birmingham-jail/> [Accessed 6 Aug. 2022].
Rhetorical Analysis Of Martin Luther King Jr’s Letter From Birmingham Jail [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2021 Mar 18 [cited 2022 Aug 6]. Available from: https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/rhetorical-analysis-of-martin-luther-king-jrs-letter-from-birmingham-jail/
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