Unanswered [3] / Urgent [0] / SERVICES
Home / Book Reports   2

rhetorical analysis "Letter from Birmingham Jail"

Jun 15, 2010   #1
Prompt: Answer the question about whether the author's approach is primarily emotional, logical, or ethical. (could be one, two, or all three) One of the main tasks in the essay is to analyze how the author uses language to accomplish his purpose, especially the tone of the writing. Quote text and support thesis.

I need to make sure my essay makes sense. I also need help with the thesis and making sure it's supported well.

Martin Luther King Jr., pastor and civil rights leader, was put into jail after being part of the Birmingham campaign. King was serving as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and was asked by an Alabama group to come to Birmingham and participate in a "nonviolent direct-action program". He and members of his organization joined The Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights and organized non-violent protests against racial segregation in Birmingham, Alabama. Because of these nonviolent protests, all these people were put into jail. While in jail, eight Alabama clergymen published a statement in the paper stating blacks should withdraw their support from Martin Luther King Jr. and the demonstrators that protested. Four days later, while locked up in jail, King replied with a letter aimed towards these eight men, and aimed towards the "white moderate" as well. The "white moderate" is the community at large and Martin wanted them to hear what he had to say. In this letter he's attempting to explain himself and his movement. King uses logic, ethics, and emotion to convince these clergymen and also the "white moderate" why civil rights should be granted to African Americans. Through his language and rhetoric, he's able to turn the words of the clergymen back on themselves. Although King uses logic, ethics, and emotion throughout his whole letter, his use of logic and emotion with the assistance of imagery, really brings his letter to life and shows his point of view to the world.

In the beginning of Martin Luther King Jr.'s letter, he begins by addressing the fellow clergymen. He restates their comment calling his actions "unwise and untimely." He replies, "I want to try to answer your statements in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms." King goes on explaining why he is in Birmingham and he compares himself to Apostle Paul and other prophets that wanted to bring freedom elsewhere. King wanted to bring freedom to other cities and that's why he promised to help the Alabama group with the segregation issue.

In his letter, King states he has a reason for being in Birmingham and he's not an outsider like the clergymen claim. "Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds." King's organizational ties brought him and the others to Birmingham. His organizational ties were with the Alabama Christian Leadership Conference. In the clergymen's letter, these men state that they "deplore" the demonstrations that took place in Birmingham. The clergymen felt that King and his people were acting out and disrupting the peace instead of trying to negotiate with the city. What these clergymen failed to notice was that The Alabama Christian Leadership Conference had tried several times to negotiate with the city. Either nothing was done about the issue or false promises were made by the city. King's use of logic points out that these clergymen are being bias and only concentrate on one side of the facts. Because negotiation did not work with the city of Birmingham, nonviolent action needed to take place in order to get justice. In King's letter he stated, "Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever." King was a very intelligent man, and by putting his argument on the same scholarly and religious level as these eight clergymen, he made it hard for the men to prove him wrong. His use of language and rhetorical devices shows the clergymen's pretense on racial segregation and by doing that, King is able to move on and appeal to other groups because he has already finished his argument with these men.

By using figures that are not only biblical, King is able to relate to other groups of people in the audience.
Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half-truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood.

By doing this, he has not alienated any of his readers. He instead has included the non-religious audience by addressing concerns that fall outside religion but still within the context the letter is based on. In the beginning of the letter he mainly addressed the eight clergymen and the "white moderate" at large, but as the letter progressed his tone changed and so did his language.

In his emotional sections he's appealing to the black audiences but also to the "white moderate" to show them the effects of segregation. King understood that not everyone has experienced segregation so he tried to describe the emotions for people to understand the effects. "You have seen hate-filled police curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters...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 that has just been advertised on television..." King uses loaded words in these passages. Loaded words have strong overtones which evoke emotions, either negative or positive. Using loaded words can help provide imagery and make connections to one's life. By using loaded words, King was able to connect to his audience by painting a picture. In this emotional section, King listed personal stories that he had faced and kept listing them into one long sentence instead several. By doing this, he dragged out the raw emotions and allowed readers to feel the strength of them. His use of imagery gave the reader a picture of how segregation affected the African Americans.

Martin Luther King Jr.'s "Letter from Birmingham Jail" was intended for the eight clergymen. His strong use of logic and biblical references was to get their attention in the beginning. With their attention in hand, King was able to share the emotional side of his argument to these men, as well as the community at large. King's wise usage of logic, emotion, and imagery helped to paint the picture of the effects of segregation in minds of the readers. By relating to all audiences in this letter, he was able to grab the attention of many and make his voice be heard.

EF_KevinThreads: 8
Posts: 13,840
[Contributor] 129  
Jun 16, 2010   #2
emotional, logical, or ethical

These correspond to the 3 aspects of classical rhetoric:
They are pathos, logos, and ethos. Actually, though, ethos refers more to the status of the speaker than to ethics.

... was put into in jail...

This first paragraph is very good!!!

Through his language and rhetoric, he is able to turn the words of the clergymen back on themselves. --- good observation. You better use examples to support this.

Although King uses logic, ethics, and emotion throughout his whole letter his use of logic and emotion with the assistance of imagery, really brings his letter to life and shows his point of view to the world. --- you better use good imagery examples...

make the first sentence of a paragraph the topic sentence:
In the beginning of Martin Luther King Jr.'s the letter, King begins by addressing the fellow clergymen about their words.

I see that you do give examples of turning rhetoric around and also imagery. I recommend saying "imagery words" instead of "loaded words," because it will work just as well and support your thesis.


Home / Book Reports / rhetorical analysis "Letter from Birmingham Jail"