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"Letter from Birmingham jail" - rhetorical analysis

FredParisFrance 61 / 7  
May 2, 2007   #1

could you please read my essay and give me some feedback?

the prompt is:
what elements of "Letter from Birmingham jail in response to public statement by eight Alabama clergymen" (written by Martin Luther King Jr.) make it persuasive?

thank you in advance.

From time immemorial, the promoters of social justice utilize rhetorical strategies to persuade theirs opponents of theirs claims. The proponents of the movement for civil rights for African Americans have made an intensive use of those strategies to advocate their cause. On April 16, 1963, from the jail of Birmingham, Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote an extensive missive to eight clergymen who had attacked his work for civil rights in a public statement released on April 12, 1963. Martin Luther King, Jr. primarily aimed this letter at those eight leaders of the white Church of the South. However, the eight clergymen's letter and the response from Martin Luther King, Jr. were publicly published. Martin Luther King, Jr. wanted to convince of the utility of his commitment in this particular area at this specific moment. To persuade his readers, Martin Luther King, Jr. predominantly employs Aristotle's three types of persuasion that are appeals to ethos, pathos, and logos. First, he appeals to his own reputation and wisdom. Second, he tries to arouse emotions or sympathy in the readers. Finally, he appeals to logic, supported with evidence and citations from influential thinkers.

Martin Luther King, Jr. wants to be the spokesperson of the African American community in the United States of America. His intention is to prove his opponents he has sufficient authority to promote the civil rights cause on behalf of his community. The first example that illustrates Martin Luther King, Jr.'s use of this strategy is present in the second paragraph of his letter: "I have the honor of serving as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference". Thus, he reminds his interlocutors of his position of leadership in the religious community. This allows him to stand in the case of equal qualifications with the eight clergymen. Furthermore, in the third paragraph, he states, "Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid." Consequently, he contends he is a prophet for freedom like Paul, but also like Jesus in the same paragraph. This provides him with the highest level of authority in the religious field. He suggests he has the support of God to wage his war against injustice. Therefore, since God has chosen him, it implies he is of higher moral standards. Finally, in the fourth paragraph, he advances "Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states." Martin Luther King, Jr. wants to remind his readers of his belonging to the assembly of the enlightened citizens. Consequently, he has the necessary wisdom to voice his opinions.

Martin Luther King, Jr. intends to create a feeling of proximity and sympathy for the civil rights cause. His purpose is to arouse emotion in his readers, both WASP and African American communities, to abate the aggressiveness coming from the WASP citizens and revive the fire of nonviolent contestation in the African American minds. Martin Luther King, Jr. emphasizes the injustice in the daily life of the members of the African American community in the fourteenth paragraph. Thus, he intends to give the WASP reader an insight into the abject situation in which the African Americans are. He wants to sprinkle sparks of rejection against immoral behaviors. Moreover, in the forty-fifth paragraph, he exemplifies the police evil repression on protesters. Martin Luther King, Jr. wants his interlocutors to imagine the pain and the humiliation of ill-treatments. Likewise, he desires to provoke a moral rebellion against hatred and condescendence exerted towards the demonstrators. Lastly, in the forty-seventh paragraph, he stresses the heroism performed in minute contestations against the oppression. Martin Luther King, Jr. aims at commending those achievements and encourages their proliferation through the African American community. He wants to stimulate a feeling of pride in anti-establishment actions. Martin Luther King, Jr. is a fervent user of logic, notably to justify why each of his contemporaries should compel with the authority of God. The sixteenth paragraph is a conspicuous illustration of appeals to evidence from prominent philosophers. His demonstration commences with the explanation of the fairness of a law. To support his affirmation, he quotes St Thomas Aquinas who reached the same conclusions several centuries earlier. Subsequently, he cites Martin Buber, a Jewish philosopher, to explain why unfair laws abase the segregationists. Finally, Martin Luther King, Jr. mentions Paul Tillich, an illustrious Protestant theologian, to corroborate his contention that segregation is not only morally detestable but also sinful. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s purpose is to buttress his argumentation with quotations from esteemed personages in the religious and philosophic fields. He searches to prove that every citizen must abide by the American laws enacted by the Supreme Court. Nevertheless, he maintains a firm position for yielding to a higher authority: morality.

In his "Letter from Birmingham Jail in Response to Public Statement by Eight Alabama Clergymen", Martin Luther King, Jr. desires to justify the importance and especially the legitimacy of his participation in the events in Alabama to erect his ethos as respectable to his audience. Indeed, he must establish his authority as both a minister and a representative for African Americans to establish equality between him and the eight clergymen to be credible to his audience and erase all potential condescendence. Furthermore, he plays with emotions to abate oppositions and reinforce his vision of the fight for Civil Rights. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s aim is to create a feeling of identification with the civil rights' cause in the mind of his readers in order to expunge any Manichean thinking. Finally, his audience is in a spirit of conciliation and therefore is ready to listen to his discourse. Henceforward, Martin Luther King, Jr. demonstrates the veracity of his claims and the legitimacy of his fight thanks to evidence and logic. In this way, he discloses his personal ability for debating but also the African Americans' capacity for defending positions in forthcoming discussions. Martin Luther King, Jr. utilizes reason to construct a rapprochement with the WASP community as well. Actually, he reminds the WASP community of its anterior fights against both the British oppression and the Nazi regime. Thus, he intends to illustrate with analogies that the fight for African Americans' civil rights is not so far from the WASP community prior demands. Consequently, he obliterates the false dichotomy that runs rampant in the WASP community, namely the requirements for civil rights are not as justifiable and moral as the independence of the thirteen colonies or the suppression of the Nazi anti-Semitism. An important element of this Letter from Birmingham Jail is that Martin Luther King, Jr. concludes his missive with an appeal to peace and unity. With those words, if the readers have just forgotten the entire discourse, the readers keep in minds his motivation for appeasement and concord.

EF_Team2 1 / 1,709  
May 2, 2007   #2

As usual, you have written a fine, well-reasoned essay! I have just a few editing tips:

the promoters of social justice utilize rhetorical strategies to persuade their opponents of their claims.

Martin Luther King, Jr. wanted to convince them of the utility of his commitment in this particular area at this specific moment.

His intention is to prove to his opponents he has sufficient authority

Moreover, in the forty-fifth paragraph, he exemplifies the police evil repression on protesters. - I don't think "exemplifies" is the word you mean here. It could be taken to mean that Dr. King was himself an example of police repression. A better word might be "exposes."

the readers keep in mind his motivation for appeasement and concord.

You might want to use a few more quotes, especially when you are saying "he said this in the forty-fifth paragraph" and so on; let your reader know what it is you are referencing.

The only other thing I would point out is that you don't need to refer to him every time as "Martin Luther King, Jr." It is perfectly acceptable to refer to him as "King" or "Dr. King" and, in fact, using his full name every time is cumbersome. I'd recommend using a shorter version except for the first and last times you use his name.

Excellent work!


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