A Rhetorical Analysis of the Speech “I have a Dream”
One of the most well-known pieces of oratory of all time is Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. This speech was written with the intention of persuading all Americans that all people are created equal under God and the law. The use of allusion and exposition aid in the overall effectiveness of his piece.
King’s use of allusions to the Bible, a patriotic song, and the Declaration of Independence appeals to each person’s sense of moral obligation to uphold equality. By using biblical references like “and the crooked place will be made straight,” he appeals to a Christian audience. No Christian wants to be seen as a sinner, so by suggesting it is God’s will for people to live with equality, he adds validity to his point. Similarly, King uses the patriotic song “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee” to stir up a sense of nationalism felt by the majority of Americans.
How it works
By referencing the commonly accepted patriotic song, he makes an undeniable case for the acceptance of integration policy and universal equality. He also appeals to members of Congress and Americans who value their roots by quoting the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration of Independence marked the beginning of the American Revolution, a heroic moment in American history. By comparing that event to the circumstances he addressed in his speech, King endeavored to give his audience a tangible understanding. By using sources accepted by the majority of the population, King aimed to make each person feel a moral obligation to his cause through Christianity and nationalism.
Another technique that Martin Luther King Jr. uses to enhance the effectiveness of the oratory is exposition. He uses examples from his own life and the lives of others to make his message more relatable to the average person. King uses his own children as an example of racial injustice. He states that his children should be judged upon their moral character, not their skin color. This statement is powerful to anyone who is a parent. Discussing his own children adds an element of emotion, making his writing all the more effective in its persuasive purpose. He also lists different mountains from which freedom should ring, a reference to his quote from “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee”. Naming these mountains creates potential for a listener to feel a personal connection and heighten personal response. Examples help trigger personal emotions, encouraging people to act.
King uses persuasive techniques like exemplification and allusion to appeal to the broad audience of the American public. He also employs techniques like repetition, specifically of the words “I Have a Dream,” to emphasize the importance of his work and ensure that everyone understands that the outcome of this situation affects them, regardless of their race. He urges listeners to embrace a sense of nationalism.