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Letter from Birmingham Jail

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English Project

on 28 April 2014

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Transcript of Letter from Birmingham Jail

Martin Luther King's
Letter from Birmingham Jail
Rhetoric Analysis

by Brian Kim

King's argument in Paragraphs 5-11
In this section, King logically explains the need for the demonstrations in Birmingham. He criticizes the clergymen for simply condemning the demonstrations, failing to recognize and understand why they were inevitable. By identifying the prevalence of brutal segregationist practices in both social and legal terms, countless of ignored promises, battered patience and hopes of the victims, King eloquently explains why African Americans and the anti-segregationists could not sit and wait while the injustice continued to prevail in Birmingham.
Rhetorical Strategies Used




Rhetorical Questions
Use of Repetitions
King's argument in Paragraphs 6-14
In this section, King explains why the demonstrations could no longer wait. He tells the story in the perspective of the victims of racism to create an emotionally effective argument, counteracting clergymen’s claims that the demonstrations were “unwise and untimely”. King asserts that such injustice and immorality will no longer be tolerated and the victims will fight for what is right. Accordingly, he implicitly criticizes the clergymen for being unable to recognize the magnitude of the issue and being apathetic towards those unfairly treated. Overall, King’s main argument is that segregationists are blind to how inhumane segregation is, and therefore, cannot understand the sense of importance and urgency to those affected.
Example 1
-"... we speedily decided to
-"... we decided again to
-"... we endured

postponement after postponement
Example 2
-"Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and
foster such a
-”My citing the creation of
-”But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word "
-”I have earnestly opposed violent
-”Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a
-”...we must see the need for nonviolent gadflies to
create the kind of

Use of Repetitions (cont.)
Example 3
-"For years now I have heard the word
-"This '
' has almost always meant 'never'"
-"We have
for more than 340 years..."
-"Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging dark segregation to say, '
-"... then you will understand why we find it difficult to

Use of Metaphors
shadow of deep disappointment
settled upon us."
-"...those who have not suffered unduly from the
disease of segregation
-"...who have never felt the
stinging dark of segregation
-"...see ominous
clouds of inferiority
-"...plunged into the
abyss of despair

Use of Anaphora
when you
have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers…
when you
have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick and even kill…
when you
see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty
when you
suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter
why she
can’t go to the public amusement park...
when you
are humiliated day in and day out
your first name becomes "nigger," your middle name becomes "boy"
when you
are forever fighting a degenerating sense of ‘nobodiness’

Effect of Repetitions
King is widely known for his use of repetition in his writings and speeches, especially in his acclaimed speech
I Have A Dream
. In this letter, he utilizes these repetitions to emphasize and reinforce the point that he and the victims of racism are exhausted from all the wait and postponements in bringing racial justice in America, adding conviction to his arguments.
Effect of Metaphors
-Implied comparison of two objects and/or ideas of two different things using a common resemblance is the general definition of metaphor. In his letter, King uses these metaphors to evoke a stronger sense of sympathy (pathos), describing how the negroes are unfairly treated (ethos). Consequently, he not only clarifies his argument but also emphasizes certain parts of it through these comparisons. Moreover, by incorporating ethos and pathos into these metaphors in describing the broken emotions of the victims, King strengthens his argument.

Effect of Anaphora
An anaphora is a rhetorical device that consists of repeated phrases or words in the beginning of neighboring clauses (not to be confused with just simple repetition). In King’s letter, he uses this technique to develop tension in his argument, emotionally stimulating his audience by continually addressing the pain and the sufferings. Furthermore, King emphasizes the injustice in segregation by describing this agonizing experiences of the segregated.
Use of Rhetorical Questions
-"Are you able to accept blows without retaliating?"
-"Are you able to endure the ordeal of jail?”
-"Why direct action? Why sit ins, marches and so forth? Isn't negotiation a better path?"
-"Why didn't you give the new city administration time to act?"

Effect of Rhetorical Questions
Rhetorical questions are generally thought provoking questions that have self-evident answers and are often used to stimulate a response or expectation from the reader or the audience. In the same way, King is able to deliver a logically sound argument, presenting the clergymen’s argument and advising specific answers to their questions. The embedded logos in his questions help connect the audience to his logical points, making it more coherent and agreeable.
The End
Visual Analysis
Although this picture does not explicitly demonstrate MLK’s exhaustion from his ignored attempts and neglected proposals to change America, it is very significant to the situation in Birmingham. Although no “exhaustion” or “impatience” can be seen out of context, in context, this sign represents everything MLK goes against in his letter, the “wait”, the racism, and the misguided commencement of the police force by the clergymen.
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