Rhetorical Anaylisis on “Letter from Birmingham”
2 June 2011 Eng 121-128 Martin Luther King Jr. was one of the greatest civil rights activists this nation has ever seen. The ability he had to seize an opportune moment in time was phenomenal. A true example of this ability was a time he had been jailed for not having the proper permits during a civil rights parade in Birmingham, Alabama. While he was in jail, eight clergymen criticized him, calling his activities “unwise and untimely” (112). He responded to their criticism with amazing rhetoric, grasping at their hearts and minds with syntax, diction, examples, and allusions in his now famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail. Dr. King established ethos effectively in regards to his letter. In the beginning of the letter, he clearly states his equal authority by saying, “My Dear Fellow Clergymen” (112). This makes him equal in eyes of his peers and establishes creditability. King’s reference to the clergymen creates an immediate relationship exposing the bonds that people of similar character share. Further, he compares himself to the Apostle Paul when he states, “like Paul I must respond to the Macedonian call for aid” (113).
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This comparison gives Reverend King creditability since he is writing to men of pious belief and gives religious grounds for the injustice being done which requires his aid. These injustices are acts of segregation, unfair treatment, and degrading the human personality of blacks. Dr. King can relate to these injustices and has moral ground and strong creditability to act against these injustices. He makes this apparent by quoting Saint Augustine: “That an unjust law is no law at all” (116). As seen, he has established ethos with the clergy on a religious and educated level.
He also displays ethos with the African American community because of his own personal experience, being a black man. King’s ethos is extremely charismatic in hopes that his letter will explain his passion for equal rights. Dr. Martin Luther King’s logical appeal is very strong and implicit. He affectively provides the eight clergymen with plenty of truth and reason regarding the matter of equal liberty and the steps it takes to reach this goal. Dr. King states the following: In no sense do I advocate evading or defying the law, as would the rabid segregationist. That would lead to anarchy. One who breaks an njust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law. (117-118) In this statement King emphasizes that he does not intend to defy any just law; however, when it comes to an unjust law, these types of laws must be violated and the penalty for violating this law must be accepted for the sake of equal rights, awareness and progress.
The action of breaking the law willingly in order to enlighten the public is extremely powerful because he is promoting incarceration even if the reason for breaking the law is justified. (King himself obviously supports this action because he is in jail himself when these words of great importance were written in these statements making them fact. ) The metaphors of emotion throughout his letter paint vivid portraits in the mind. Dr. King’s conclusion to the letter may be the most alluring, picturesque passage of all.
He states, “Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear-drenched communities” (126). In associating a rainstorm’s end with the ending of segregation, he hopes non-minorities will begin to glance at the emotional experience of escaping the pain and anguish of segregation. King further states, “And in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty” (126).
This statement lures the heart and mind on how beautiful “our great nation” will be when segregation finally loses its grasp on American society (126). King illustrates how negative the times are in his present day and combats this behavior with a positive outlook on the future. His emotional appeal penetrates the core of the soul in hopes that his words will rattle the clergymen into conviction and understanding for equal rights. King’s letter is tremendously powerful to this day.
His words of change, hope, and action force not only the eight clergymen, but all people who read it to strive for equality. He grasps the mind and ensnares the soul into understanding and reason. It is evidently clear that Dr. Martin Luther King’s words will ring through generations to come in the hopes that civil rights will be achievable for all, no matter the cost. Works Cited King, Martin Luther, Jr. “Letter from Birmingham Jail. ” English 121 Readings. Pikes Peak Community College. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2010. 112-126. Print.