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Letter From Birmingham Analysis
Transcript of Letter From Birmingham Analysis
Purpose & Topic
Diction & Tone
Structure/Pattern of Development/ Rhetorical Mode
In Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “Letter from Birmingham Jail” he uses argument persuasions as his choice of rhetorical mode to his audience. Throughout his letter Dr. King emphasis to his audience to view things from his perspective.
In the letter, the author compares himself to the Apostle Paul, who also carried the gospel message
“beyond his own town”(king 1)
. According to his letter, Martin Luther King was from Atlanta; a man with the purpose to end segregation in Birmingham. He was one of the “outsiders” of Birmingham.
In the essay, Martin uses powerful words and phrases that effectively deliver his message and engage the reader simultaneously. For example,
"the sting darts of segregation"(king 2).
He uses this phrase when mentioning those who have never felt segregated. This phrase is very powerful because it leaves the reader feeling sorry for the person who has been segregated. He also use the word
to describe how the policemen are to the colored-people. This tells the reader that the policemen at that time were very wicked. Martin communicates his point effectively when he says "segregation substitutes an
'I - it.'"
This paint a picture for the reader of how colored-people are viewed.
Martin Luther King successfully communicate his message because he expresses his thoughts and emotions in a gentle and warm tone. The reader can clearly recognize the author's gentle tone when he states,
"I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate" (King 3)
. One can conclude that Martin is trying his best to make his tone sound as pleasing as possible.
"I would like to answer your statement in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms"
He came across as calm and friendly. This warm tone is recognized throughout the Letter because the author is trying to avoid trouble between himself and the white people.
"Letter From Birmingham Jail"
, Martin Luther King answers the concerns of the white religious clergymen and describes the agony and negotiations Negroes face in their everyday lives.
The writer of "Letter From Birmingham Jail" is Martin Luther King Jr., also known as the president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He is very popular for his outstanding writings and speeches.
For example in his letter the author states,
“I cannot sit idly in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham.”
This tells the reader Martin Luther King was not from Birmingham.
For utter understanding of the letter, one needs to know who is the audience. Martin wrote the letter to several religious clergymen who had criticized his work during a protest in Birmingham.
Martin Luther King's purpose for this letter is to respond to the criticism from the public and also from the eight white religious leaders.
The very first paragraph of the letter says,
"It was his response to a public statement of concern and caution issued by eight white religious leaders of the south" (King 1)
Another statement from the letter that proves Martin's purpose in the story is
"You may well ask, 'Why direct action,'"(king 3).
This shows that Martin is not just writing a letter but answering questions to a certain group.
Martin begins his writing by explaining to the white religious leaders why he is in Birmingham. One of his reasons being, because he was invited there, Martin also say, it is because injustice is in Birmingham.
He states that Birmingham is the most segregated city in the united stated due to its unjust treatment to the Negroes. Martin then answers a statement made by the white leaders that their (Martin's and other Negroes') acts are untimely. After that he states that
"We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor"(king 2).
Next, the author demonstrates the difference between unjust and just laws after quoting,
"an unjust law is no law at all"
by St. Augustine.
Martin's tone changes as he later expresses his disappointment
"with the white moderate"(king 3)
He believes that
"the Negroes' stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is"(king 3
the white moderate.
Disappointed in the white clergymen, the author replies to their statement that
activity was extreme.
I was rather disappointed that fellow clergymen would see my nonviolent efforts as those of an extremist"(King 4).
Afterward, Martin mentions successful people who were also extremists throughout history (
Lord Jesus, John Bunyan, Paul, Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson).
Although Martin is aware of injustice in Birmingham, he states that
"people cannot remain oppressed forever"
He believes freedom will come eventually.
Martin concludes his writing by mentioning the weakness of today's church. He says that the church is not as committed as the early christians, who even died for what they believed.
The topic of Martin's letter is the hopelessness of the colored people. Martin Luther king's goal is to communicate about the painful experience of segregation and how inferior the colored-people feel. For example
"it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation"(king 2) and
"when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she cannot go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television"(King 3)
What the author states speaks for itself. He tries to demonstrate what colored-people experience from their childhood to grown adults . This makes the reader wonder put themselves in the author's shoes.
He also wrote his letter to all Americans to proclaim that injustice was not only in Birmingham but all over America. In his letter Martin Luther King writes,
“I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers”(king 3)
“injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”(King 1)
One can conclude that Martin Luther King approached his letter in a sense that he was not only writing to those who criticized his work, but to all Americans.
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First he states that his campaign is nonviolent and then he lists the steps:
1. Collection of facts
4. Direct action
He mentions these steps were carefully taken to avoid intense conflict.
Next he says these measure had to be taken after made promises were broken on progress to ending segregation. He also talks about how the laws are unjust and how it is difference made legal and how if the compelling majority is not willing to follow themselves it is not considered sameness. He understands that a letter of provocation would not help the situation of segregation and takes this approach in his letter to invoke action.
Dr. King makes an appeal to logic (logos) and an appeal to emotion (pathos). He talks about his passion to end segregation is always untimely.
But, Dr. King realizes that history states that privileged groups do not give up their privileges voluntarily.
Furthermore, through painful experience freedom is never voluntarily given up by the oppressor, it must be demanded by the oppressed.
Dr. King also mentioned that the delayed justice is tranquilizing and is justice denied.
This emotional stress only leads frustration for him in addition, he mentions about having to concoct an answer to his five-year old son asking him in agonizing pathos
“Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”(King 2)
Dr. King successfully deliver his message about the ongoing racial injustices and segregation in America.