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Analysis of Martin Luther King Jr.'s Rhetoric

Martin Luther King Jr. was adept at expressing himself and persuasive in his arguments. His "I Have a Dream" speech is probably his most famous, but his earlier argument in "Letter from Birmingham Jail" is also well-known. The two works differ in their audience, their intent, and the way they shape their arguments, though both are carefully designed to appeal to their respective audiences and to persuade members of that audience to a point of view. The audience for "Letter from Birmingham Jail" is a group of clergymen, many of whom had criticized King for his actions. The audience for "I Have a Dream" consisted of thousands of people gathered in Washington for a rally, along with all those watching and listening on television and radio.

The letter is much longer in keeping with the fact that it is to be read, and its argument is also more complex because the reader has more time to digest it, to re-read it, if necessary, and to consider the different concepts being offered. Other important elements are meant to create a bond between King and those to whom the letter is directed, from the opening salutation to "My Fellow Clergymen" to other references to the readers linking them to the writer of the letter by common interests and positions--he refers to his leadership of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference operating in their states, he links himself in this way with the city of Birmingham to do away with the complaint that "outsiders" were coming in, and he appeals to the bible. In "I Have a Dream," King continually links himself with his listeners and with the occasion by the use of "we" as a subject--he says that "we" have come here, that "we" have been lied to, that "we" want to remind America of the urgency of our appeal. At key points, he reminds his audience of the link that exists between them with terms such as "my friends," as in the following: "My friends, I must say to you that we have not made a single ...

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