Letter from Birmingham Jail
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“Letter from Birmingham Jail” Rhetorical Analysis Essay
Below, you may read MLK’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” rhetorical analysis. It looks at different techniques, appeals, and methods used by the author in his work.
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On April 19, 1963, Martin Luther King Jr (MLK) wrote a detailed letter from Birmingham Jail in reply to some public releases which were directed at undermining his fight for civil equality. Most of the Martin Luther statements were very rhetorical, whereby he employed Aristotle’s kinds of persuasion to convince his audience. He made use of ethos, pathos, and logos, which are directed towards his own reputation and wisdom, to have the attention of the audience and to have the logic of influential thinkers, respectively. This “Letter from Birmingham Jail” Rhetorical Analysis Essay aims at defining a list of rhetorical devices used in the letter with examples.
“Letter from Birmingham Jail” Rhetorical Analysis of the First Paragraphs
Rhetorical devices are present from the first paragraph. In his efforts to promote civil rights on behalf of the American community, he starts by explaining his state of confinement in the jail, which is a clear indication of how the poor are suffering in the hands of an unjust society. He further states that he would wish to respond to their recent statements that his activities are unwise and untimely. This is meant to let the clergymen understand that Martin Luther King Jr. was well aware of their mind.
He proceeds to say that if he decided to look at each criticism that comes through his office, he would have no time for his work. In this statement, Luther King wants to let his critics know that his civil rights work is far much significant than the criticism they have been directing towards him and that they would rather concentrate on their work since he has no time to direct towards their attacks. He also terms their criticism as genuine and set forth as a way of showing them that he can understand the reason behind their criticism.
He further indicates in the second paragraph the fact that the clergymen have an issue with outsiders coming into the city, whereby he intends to let them know that though they are against him, many are on his side since he states that it was an invitation.
This again appears in the fourth paragraph, where he says that as long as a person is within the United States, no one should claim that he is an outsider. He also states that “I have the honor of serving as president of the Southern Christian leadership conference” (King 1) to show them he equally holds a religious leadership position as they do, and he has the right to exercise his faith.
What Type of Appeal Is Martin Luther King, Jr. Using from the Third to Fifth Paragraphs?
In the third paragraph, he likens himself with Paul to make it clear that he is a prophet of freedom and liberation, just like Paul . Claiming that he has been sent by Jesus shows that he has a very high authority in the religious field, and though people may be against him, God is on his side. Just as Jesus sent his disciples all over the world to take the gospel, Martin Luther makes it clear that he came to Birmingham due to the injustice that was prevailing.
In the fourth paragraph, Martin Luther says that “moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states” (King 2). He wanted to have his audience understand that he belonged to the congregation of the elites, and he has sufficient wisdom to put his opinions across. When he mentions the city’s white power structure, he wanted to trigger the mind of his critics who were only concerned with the demonstrations that were taking place rather than the reason behind these demonstrations.
In the fifth paragraph, he proceeds to mention that “the ugly records of brutality” (King 2) in Birmingham are widely known. This further insisted that his critics were less concerned with the more critical issues such as injustice that Negroes were facing in the city by trying to hinder those who were fighting for this justice. It is evident since even after he had taken the legal steps towards all his activities, he was still being discriminated against.
“Letter from Birmingham Jail” Rhetorical Analysis from the Seventh to Fourteenth Paragraphs
In the seventh paragraph, he states that ‘we were victims of a broken promise’ to show that regardless of the agreement they had made earlier on to remove any sign of racial discrimination, the rest were not concerned apart from his assembly. In paragraph eight, he says that “our hopes had been blasted and the shadows of deep disappointment settled upon us” (King 4).
This shows that the King would recognize the faults but does not wish to blame anyone. The phrase “that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood” (King 4) was meant to unite all people in the fight against racism.
Rhetorical Analysis of the “Letter from Birmingham Jail” shows that In the fourteenth paragraph, King uses his logical, non-threatening appeal to show the urgency of his civil right actions in the city. He puts it clear that people have endured long enough and that there are now becoming impatient with the way events are unfolding every day. He supports his argument in the next paragraph, where he puts it across that they have been governed by a combination of unjust and just law whereby there is a need to separate the two.
The above discussion is just but a few of King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” rhetorical appeals representations. Throughout his letter, King uses strong, almost unquestionable logic that makes his piece of writing very outstanding due to its unique method of development.
King Luther. Letter from Birmingham Jail . Stanford University, 1964. Web.
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IvyPanda . (2023) '“Letter from Birmingham Jail” Rhetorical Analysis Essay'. 24 April.
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The “Letter from Birmingham Jail” was written by Martin Luther King, Jr during the time he was imprisoned in jail, after the demonstration of a peaceful protest against segregation in Birmingham city. In his letter, it was intentionally written to respond to criticisms of the eight white clergymen on him and his fellow activists’ action, as being “unwise and untimely”. He addresses every clergymen’s concerns about his action with a formal tone. His main audiences are the clergymen and white moderates who do not agree with the black community movement. Throughout the letter, King uses a combination of rhetorical appeals such as, logos, ethos and pathos to support his arguments and persuade his audiences to believe in what he says.
King’s usage of logical argument is very strong in the letter. As he moved his argument over the anxiety of clergymen on black men’s willingness to break the law. He agreed that it was strange for him to break the law while urging people to respect the Supreme Court’s decision of 1954 outlawing segregation. He then made a very logical set of distinctions between just and unjust laws, in which he suggests that when laws are unjust; it is not wrong to disobey them. Still, providing just a general idea would not be adequate to persuade the audiences so he needs to expand his idea deeper, for example:
Let us turn to a more concrete example of just and unjust laws. An unjust law is a code that a minority inflicts on a minority that is not binding in itself. This is difference made legal. On the other hand, a just law is a code that a majority compels a minority to follow, and that it is willing to follow itself. This is sameness made legal. Let me give another explanation. An unjust law is a code inflicted upon a minority which that minority had no part in enacting because it did not have the unhampered right to vote. Who can say that the legislature of Alabama which set up that state’s segregation laws was democratically elected? Throughout Alabama all sorts of devious methods are used to prevent Negroes from becoming registered voters, and there are some counties in which, even though Negroes constitute a majority of the population, not a single Negro is registered.
This is a precise definition based on fact that is hard to refute. He uses a situation of black people in Alabama to support his idea about the unjust laws that helps his audience understand about the absence of equality in laws. Moreover, he does use his own experience when he was arrested for protesting without permit, in which he describes as “it is not wrong for the law to require permit to protest but it becomes an unjust law when it works against the First Amendment privilege of peaceful assembly and protest.” Surely, his examples support his action rigidly.
I started thinking about the fact that I stand in the middle of two opposing forces in the Negro community. One is a force of complacency made up of Negroes who, as a result of long years of oppression, have been so completely drained of self-respect and a sense of “somebodyness” that they have adjusted to segregation, and, on the other hand, of a few Negroes in the middle class who, because of a degree of academic and economic security and because at points they profit by segregation, have unconsciously become insensitive to the problems of the masses. The other force is one of bitterness and hatred and comes perilously close to advocating violence. It is expressed in the various black nationalist groups that are springing up over the nation, the largest and best known being Elijah Muhammad’s Muslim movement. This movement is nourished by the contemporary frustration over the continued existence of racial discrimination. It is made up of people who have lost faith in America, who have absolutely repudiated Christianity, and who have concluded that the white man is an incurable devil. I have tried to stand between these two forces, saying that we need not follow the do-nothingism of the complacent or the hatred and despair of the black nationalist.
Yet, providing a comparison of his action to the two sides of black community, it gives a picture to his audiences that he and his people are not an extremist. Even though he is disappointed with the clergymen’s statement, he doesn’t let his emotion get over a reason. He continues sending a message with a polite tone and implicitly convinced his audience that his method is now the only effective way to solve the problem. He mentions “if this philosophy had not emerged, I am convinced that by now many streets of the South would be flowing with floods of blood.” King is pretty sophisticated on giving a visual imagery to provoke his opponents’ thought and make them believe in his words.
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