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Rhetorical Analysis Of Mlk Jr's I Have A Dream

1211 words - 5 pages

Rhetorical Analysis Paper
Martin Luther King Jr.: I Have a Dream

According to Aristotle, there are three ways for a speaker to persuade his audience: ethos, logos, and pathos ("American rhetoric: Aristotle's rhetoric - selected moments," n.d.). Aristotle noted that a speech should “engage both the rational and non-rational elements of the listener's soul” (Wardy, 1996, p. 63). The speaker must have credibility with their audience and appear fair, open-minded, honest, and knowledgeable (ethos). He/she must also have logical appeal with strong, valid arguments based on facts and, perhaps, with personal experience and observations (logos). And, finally, the speaker must emotionally appeal ...view middle of the document...

King worked for four days on his speech (invention), finishing it just before dawn on the day of the rally. It wasn’t original material by any means. If you compare King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail to the “I Have a Dream” speech, there are eight places where the two texts overlap in phrasing and message (Vail, 2006, p. 59). Instead of boring the audience with a repetitive message, in this case, the familiarity with the message captivated the audience and they became active participants (Vail, 2006, p 59). King, like many preachers, knew how to engage a congregation and peppered his speech with bits that experience showed would impassion the masses (arrangement).

On the day of the rally, about halfway through his speech from behind his podium/pulpit while reading the words he had painstakingly prepared, he paused and looked at his audience, maybe sensing that the crowd was looking for something more (Hampson, 2013). The speech he penned was set aside and he dug into his cache of quotes and verses (memory) and started passionately citing passages from the Bible (Amos 5:24 and Isaiah 40:4-5). In his oration, he referenced the Emancipation Proclamation, the Constitution, Declaration of Independence, and lyrics from My Country Tis of Thee ("Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream”," n.d.). Originally titled "Normalcy — Never Again", the claim “I Have a Dream” was not a part of the speech King had written for the rally (Hampson, 2013). And yet, those four words are now as well-known as any quote from any American President.

When King looked up and recognized the passion brimming in his audience, he changed his delivery to match what those who were gathered were waiting to hear. The style of his recitation shifted from a something that was, as King’s biographer Taylor Branch would write, "far from historic" and in places "clubfooted", to a something more representative of a southern Baptist preacher banging on a pulpit, citing the Lord’s passages and raising the cadence of his voice because he knew that was what his audience wanted (Branch, 1999, p. 209).

If you google “25 speeches that changed the world”, only the Sermon on the Mount given by given by Jesus Christ and Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address rank higher in historical significance (Pegg, 2013). The "I Have a Dream" speech succeeded because King recognized that his audience wanted to hear more than the continuing claims of the need for equality. It passionately combined the elements of ethos, logos and pathos. King’s credibility was already established with the audience because of his ongoing fight for equal rights. His ability to reach each person was amplified by his...

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