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Rhetorical Analysis of Martin Luther King's I Have A Dream Speech

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In a period of time where few were willing to listen, Martin Luther King, Jr. stood proudly, gathered and held the attention of over 200,000 people. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech was very effective and motivational for African Americans in 1963. Many factors affected Kings’ speech in a very positive manner; the great emotion behind the words, delivering the speech on the steps of the memorial of the President who defeated slavery. And not only was this message beautifully written for the hope of African Americans, but the underlying message for white people, revolution and peace. To stimulate emotion from both parties of his listeners, King used a selection of rhetorical devices such as allusions to historical documents, metaphors, similes, anaphoras and others.

Martin Luther King’s use of allusions to historical documents helps his message of equality hit home for his audience. Most of the allusions were geared more towards the white people that it was towards the blacks because it provided printed evidence from past documents that were written by white males. His first, “Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation” is an allusion to Abraham Lincoln and the Gettysburg Address. His first reference to the Declaration of Independence: “This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men would be guaranteed the ‘unalienable rights’ of ‘Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness’.” Another quote King uses from the Declaration of Independence is not quite as publicized, King incidentally slips in, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” King also makes a few allusions to the Bible; “...


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... would be treated as equals and walk hand-in-hand with every one of every color. Martin Luther King, Jr. implies that his dream is none other than the dream of the Founding Fathers which he makes reference to several times during his speech. And ending with another powerful anaphora, “let freedom ring” King look joyfully towards the day where “all God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentile, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing” because he knows this is movement is greater than just for those of color.

By expressing his emotions on the subject of racism, Kings persuasive speech influenced and impacted America, for the better in the early 1960’s. With his many uses of different rhetorical devices such as allusions, metaphors and smiles, and anaphoras Kings speech truly changed the minds of hundreds of thousands of people.


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