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

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Rhetoric: "The use of words by human agents to form attitudes or induce actions in other human agents....The use of language as a symbolic means of inducing cooperation in human beings that by nature respond to symbols." If Kenneth Burke is correct, then I would propose that speakers who use the technique of Rhetoric properly will thoroughly "induce" their listeners to action. Perhaps no other speech nor speaker eloquently used rhetoric, amongst other speaking techniques, to evict such emotion, persuasion, and call to action as the "I Have a Dream" speech by Martin Luther King Jr. However, his speech is not praised for mere rhetoric alone. King paints his speech with vivid " theme" words, quotations, and allusions leaving the listener with a striking and unifying message.
It is 1963* and one of the most historic demonstrations for equality has just taken place. Martin Luther King Jr.'s setting is the memorial of the President who has defeated the Southern states and the issues of slavery once before. In the introduction, King effectively uses a play on words, "Five score years ago" to not only salute former President Lincoln's famous address and nod at the fact that one hundred years ago the blacks were promised to be free. He begins with a narration that reminds us of a "Great American" that signed the Emancipation Proclamation. At first, his tone describes happier times at the signing of the proclamation, but his tone quickly changes to a darker reality: almost one hundred years later, the blacks are still not free.
A former Baptist minister, King recites his speech like a trained theologian in a style much like a sermon, pausing here and there for effect and poignancy. His pace is slow and timely in the beginning, but b...


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... how Martin Luther King Jr. vividly and lucidly adapts quotes from the Bible to move and sway his audience.
He also uses several "theme" words over and over to leave the listener with a clear understanding of the underlying message. The most apparent theme is probably the phrase "I have a dream". By repeating "I have a dream", he emphasizes these words and makes them memorable to the listener. The first half of King's speech was in part, painting a n ugly picture of racial discrimination, and called the audience to action by refusing complacency, idleness, and aggression. The repetitive words are passionate and almost militant. But his tone in the latter half is more unifying, positive, and peaceful. He leaves his audience with an alternative future and ends with the hopeful Negro Spiritual, "Free at last, free at last, Thank God Almighty, We are free at last."


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