Rhetorical Critique of the speech I Have a Dream

Freshman (College 1st year) ・English ・MLA ・3 Sources

Racism in the United States is a contentious topic, especially when it comes to African-Americans. Despite the fact that the Declaration of Independence declared that all men are created equal, black people in the United States have been victimized and separated by a corrupt legal system. As a result, African-Americans vowed to combat the patriarchal system that discriminated against them, resulting in the rise of a large number of civil rights activists. Martin Luther King Jr., the first president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, was the most influential African-American activist. King was in the forefront of advocating for civil rights applying the strategies of nonviolence and civil disobedience through boycotts and peaceful protests (Wadud, 2013). Among all King’s civil right related exertions, the “I Have a Dream” speech which was given on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial was the most influential that changed America. The speech was a land mark since it was one of the pioneers of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The speech had a significant impact since it managed to illustrate racism issue in the United States through provoking the average white audience into feeling sympathy and shame while giving hope to the African-American population. It is evident that King carefully structures his speech to appeal to the diverse audience with the application of three rhetorical modes of logos, ethos, and pathos with various rhetorical schemes.
The "I Have a Dream" speech, King, efficiently utilizes logos style of rhetoric to appeal to the audience. In the speech, king refers to the Emancipation of Proclamation to gain credibility of his statement (Washington, 1986). “Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today signed the Emancipation Proclamation.” Through the use of an authentic document that was signed 100 years earlier which have the final application of logic and the authority of Lincoln, Martin established trust and common grounds with the intended audience. He refers to the Emancipation Proclamation that declared slaves a free people (Wadud, 2013). Therefore, Martin Luther King uses the document as a piece of evidence to demonstrate that even Lincoln, one of the most authoritative and admired men in the United States supported the freedom of black people in America. Highlighting the Emancipation Proclamation was logically appealing to the audience, of the document, since the document was over 100 years old and the promises were to be fulfilled (Vail, 2006). After 100 years after signing the document, there is still racial inequality in America. Therefore the idea of racial equality has decreased instead of increased. Additionally, King applies logic through the use of analogies. “America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked ‘insufficient funds.” The analogy applies logic as a means of reasoning since he appeals to the concept of money and the frustrations getting a bad check. Logic depicts money as means of survival, and with a shortage of it, access to essential goods and services can be devastating, and poverty was one of the thing black people under the regime. Hence, King logically constructs his speech to give valid reasons to the white audience to treat the black people in America as equal citizens.
In addition, Martin Luther King utilizes ethos mode of rhetoric to appeal to the audience. Morally, people trust that it is necessary to keep a promise that one has given. Hence, this reflects racial inequality in America in a whole new light: that there is no justification racial inequity, and the white people in the US have failed to deliver the promises that their founder fought for during independence (Washington, 1986). Therefore, ethos helps in making whites thoughtful and uncomfortable about their actions, something that King has highlighted in his speech. King states achievement of racial equity can only be realized until “justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream." As a result, the statement makes the audience think how racial segregation is wrong and it is against the fundamental moral principles. Furthermore, King alludes to several principled works like the bible to assist in appealing to his audience. King synchronizes ideas of the speech with what is considered righteous by many people, thus, making the audience ethically aware of their stand on racial inequity (Wadud, 2013). Also, Martin Luther King states that many civil right activists have been “battered by the storms of persecution” and the “winds of police brutality." Applying this metaphor, King shades the supporters of the Jim Crow laws, the rules which are suppressing African Americans in a bad light. The metaphors appeal to ethos as the first metaphor appeals the trustworthiness of keeping one’s promises while the second metaphor involves torture, something which a majority of the average white American population was against the action. So, King utilized ethos to persuade the audience to stand against racial inequality and segregation.
Martin Luther King also relies on pathos to induce an emotional response from the audience through engaging to their feelings, desires, and fears (Vail, 2006). Through the repetition of the phrase, "I Have a Dream”, King emphasized the sense of hope, faith, and sympathy for black people during that period in America. King also uses connotative words to spark an emotional response from his audience (Vail, 2006). For example, he effectively uses terms such as "oppression" and chain of "discrimination" to reinforce the need change in the American system of the treatment of African Americans. King states, "Negro finds himself in exile in his land." This expression evokes compassion and empathy on the audience of the plight of black people that go through in their own country. The audience is made to emphasize on the alienation, segregation, and unfair treatment of African Americans in the United States. Additionally, King uses pathos to persuade the audience through evoking their religious beliefs. King applies rhetorical modes when he alludes to several works like the Bible and efficiently with what is considered righteous by many. King states, “every valley shall be exalted,” every hill and mountain “made low,” all rough places will be “plain” and crooked places “straight” and that the “glory of the Lord shall be revealed.” Therefore through Biblical allusion, King manages to evoke religious belief of the audiences raising their consciousness of their wrong doing in suppressing the rights of the black people in America. Hence, Martin Luther King effectively used pathos to induce emotional response among the white people to be empathetic on the plight of the African American people.
Martin Luther King used and structured the three rhetorical modes effectively to appeal and persuade thousands of audience. Though he didn't live to fully see the day each black person in America would be treaty equally, he created a legacy through his linguistic prowess. It is clear that the rhetoric modes he used managed to inspire a generation of African Americans to keep fighting for their rights. Additionally, the efficient use of speech models made white people ashamed of their actions of unequal treatment of blacks.

Works Cited

Vail, M. The" Integrative" Rhetoric of Martin Luther King Jr.'s" I Have a Dream" Speech. Rhetoric & Public Affairs, 2006, pp. 51-78.
Wadud, I. (2013). Free but not Equal”: In the Wake of Trayvon Martin—American Anger and Visual Activism. Current Objectives of Postgraduate American Studies, 55.
Washington, J. M. (1986). The essential writings and speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. New York: HarperOne, 100.

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