A Rhetoric Analysis of M. L. King’s Speech “I have a Dream”

Rhetoric analysis refers to the form of criticism, which employs the fundamentals of rhetoric, to examine different interactive occurrences as pertaining to the author/orator; the audience and the text present. Applicable to a variant of subjects, texts and images, rhetoric analysis may endeavor to analyze a speech, advertisement, photo/image, web page and essay among other subjects of interest. As Edward P. J. Corbett rightly observes, rhetoric analysis is more inclined to the subject of analysis pertaining to what it does/ symbolizes/ articulates/ means, than on what it is or how it is framed (Corbett 45).

A speaker/orator may appear before a gathering/audience, with an expected antecedent reputation (fame/renown), but it is what he/she says (during the speech) that exerts his/her true and inert ethical appeal. Through rhetoric analysis/criticism, people are able to gain personal perspectives of a subject, from the study of ideals, attitudes, style, tone and stance present as espoused by the person/subject. Thus, a rhetoric analysis must be specific on the evidence given; artistic proofs of a subject, argument arrangement and the syntax and language used (Martin Luther King, Jr. I Have a Dream).

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As pertaining to a speech of Dr. King, I Have a Dream, a rhetoric analysis will entail understanding King’s purpose and its effects on the ideals and perspectives of the American people. Through it I seek to understand the goals and effects achieved by King’s speech, during that monumental time. Thus, the logos, ethos and pathos espoused then will be evaluated, and a conclusive argument made, to the effects and results of their utility (Corbett 87).

As pertaining to the above, the’ Ethos’ refers to King’s credibility, his character and reputation in America’s ‘Civil Rights Movement’. On that day, 28 August 1963, in front of thousands of people, from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, he delivered his speech. This was during the ‘One Million Man March’ to Washington, to rally calls for an end to racism for Jobs and for Freedom. He begins with the words “One hundred years later, the Negro still is not free…”, as a reference to the Emancipation Proclamation (1863) by Abraham Lincoln (Gettysburg Address) that had given freedom to millions of slaves (Max 56).

Having departed from the originally prepared script, King famously gave his views through an improvised peroration based on the theme of ‘I have a dream’. This was a prompt from another great activist, Mahalia Jackson, who had implored upon him to speak of it. From it, King was able to give accounts of his dreams as to the future freedom and equality of all Americans from a land plagued by hatred and slavery. As a culmination of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, the speech created the perfect closing occasion for the mass demonstration, in support of President J. F. Kennedy’s Civil Rights Legislation (Max 34).

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Having preached for a number of years about his aspirations, from his speech during the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) Conference titled The Negro and the American Dream he espoused a sense of care, commitment and zeal in the promotion of ‘Equal Rights for All’. Through it pathos is rightly invoked during the speech, such as the great occasions in America’s history: the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution and the Emancipation Proclamation. These were the foundations of what he aspired, as he alluded to President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

He alluded to the Emancipation Proclamation to capture the minds of all Americans, when he states, “Five score years ago... It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity”… Utility of Anaphora, the repetition of the phrase “I Have a Dream” (Martin Luther King, Jr. “I Have a Dream”) greatly emphasizes the logos of this speech, as King appealed through not only logical reasoning, but also through provision of historic evidence/instances and various logical claims that espoused his future ideals.

“Now is the time!” King would urge his audience and Americans in general to seize the moment and act in support of President Kennedy’s legislation. This is done in the sixth paragraph, for four times. The speech features eight points that paint perspective of the possible future unified, coexisting and integrated American social setup. Other examples throughout the speech include the following phrases, “One hundred years later”, "We can never be satisfied", "With this faith", "Let freedom ring", and "free at last" cleansed (Martin Luther King, Jr. “I Have a Dream”).

Through the speech, Dr. King was able to inspire, educate and inform not only the audience present then, but also the rest of America into future unborn generations. He utilized the power, capacity and ability he had to transform the Lincoln Memorial Park steps in the monumental arena it is today. The symbolism of the speech’s location endeavored more to educate and inspire Americans as to the necessary succeeding steps to achieve full freedom and liberty. The ideals espoused in the speech have been a reflection of his social experiences at the mistreatment of fellow blacks (Hansen 45).

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Through it he drew appeals as to the ideal American society as a nation founded on the principles of justice and freedom for all transcending and reinforcing these two secular ideals through their placement within a spiritual context. He did it through his argument, suggesting that racial justice is in accordance with the Will of God. The speech is rhetorical, therefore it produces a redemption avenue through which America’s racial wrongdoings would be cleansed (Corbett 34).

In conclusion, the line "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today!” espouses a sense of continuity requiring the need for patience, calm, strives, strength and will to carry on with the agenda. That true freedom would finally arrive at the right moment, when American society initiate all the prerequisite steps/ measures in place, and enacts on the proper reform processes.

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