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Rhetorical Devices, Pathos, Ethos and Logos in 'I Have a Dream' Speech

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Keywords: Martin Luther King, Jr.,African American,Abolitionism,Rhetoric,Emancipation Proclamation,United States,Slavery in the United States,African-American Civil Rights Movement,Racism,Racial segregation

On August 28, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and delivered a speech to thousands. This speech would go on to be known as the most famous speech in history, it is known as the “I Have a Dream” speech. In this speech, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. recited his perspective on segregation at one of the most significant civil rights rally in history. King’s intentions were to acknowledge people that racism must come to an end and African Americans must gain civil and economic rights. King was able to portray his ideology with the aid of the rhetorical devices: pathos, ethos, and logos, which in result allowed for his audience to hear, connect, and engage with his message thoroughly.

The speech was delivered with great passion that allows the audience to feel determined and stay engaged. The use pathos provides for a compassionate yet empowering atmosphere. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. uses his own desire of the American Dream to allow the audience to relate to his message. This allows for his audience to relate to a mutual desire among people, which is that we all deserve freedom. The phrase “Now is the time…” was repeated numerous times throughout the speech, this gives the audience a sense to feel motivated to take action. King uses his personal example of being a father to emphasize that he wants nothing but the best for his children. People who are parents like King, will associate with him as a father and the aspirations parents have for their children. This example provides for the knowledgeability and credibleness of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s philosophy and that he stands with the people in order to achieve the best for all Americans.

King begins his speech by providing an insight into his vision of a future that includes freedom, non-discrimination and long-lasting happiness. In his speech, King frequently looks back at moments in American history and refers to the leaders who laid the foundation of free America. This adds ethos to his speech. However, King’s speech is also rich in imagery and his phrases frequently paint the picture of a beautiful dream like nation where unity and peace abound. King dreamt of a cohesive society that would not easily fall prey to discrimination or stay divided along lines of color. King’s biggest disgust is that the promises made during the time of Lincoln never became reality and instead African Americans have been being fed only fake promises. His reference to the Emancipation Proclamation and its promises also adds ethical appeal to the speech.

Throughout the speech, King refers to a credible source, former President Abraham Lincoln. He goes on to declare that he is grateful for the remarkable abolishment of slavery and acknowledges the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. He also continuously refers to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. He states that time and time again, they refuse to stand by their promises to the people. Using these references enables his audience to trust and respect what he is delivering to them. Martin Luther King uses logos to persuade his audience to fight for equality. King refers to the Emancipation Proclamation which abolished slavery, thus freeing all the slaves. However, he states “the Negro is still not free.” He proves this with reference of segregation and police brutality towards African Americans. Another use of logos is when King emphasizes that not all white people are against African Americans. Therefore, they should not be stereotyped because some realize that justice should be for everyone no matter your color and will stand with you to fight against segregation. Throughout the speech King also logically alludes to discrimination and segregation and how nothing will be rectified till it’s been put to an end.

While the speech is impressive in terms of its use of imagery and thought-provoking phrases, the speech is highly emotional in tone. King did not want the African American people to lose sight of the dream of complete freedom which was possible only when they were given the same rights as the whites in the American society. This speech helped solidify African Americans and white people to stand for equal rights. By King standing up and speaking out for what he believed in, a sense of unity between all people has been formed. Although he passed away before actions were taken upon, with this speech he was able to help save everyone’s freedom and individualism and the goal once envisioned by Martin Luther King was achieved. The usage of rhetorical devices, pathos, ethos and logos, is what made this speech a pinnacle moment for American history.

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Rhetorical Devices, Pathos, Ethos and Logos in ‘I Have a Dream’ Speech. (2022, May 13). GradesFixer. Retrieved September 29, 2022, from
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