Martin Luther King’s Defendence in Letter
“In his “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. writes to defend himself against the Clergymen’s accusations in which he explains his motives for his civil rights demonstrations and strives to justify the desperate need for such nonviolent action in the south, such as in Birmingham. Throughout the passage, King’s audience was primarily the Clergymen, but he also strives to resonate with white moderates and the public. Through the masterful use of rhetorical and literary devices to fortify his appeal to the emotions of his audience, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. brings to light that the time to act against the racial unrest is now; this has the effect of advancing his argument while derailing and stagnating the flawed statements brought forth by the Clergymen, deeming his actions “unwise and untimely.””
Martin Luther King Jr. implements pathos through resilient diction and harsh punctuation to target the Clergymen’s empathy. The use of such devices helps strengthen King’s stance that his demonstrations are needed now more than ever. In the beginning of the passage, King writes a long periodic sentence. The unique length of the sentence helps create for the reader a sense of frustration, to parallel the frustration felt by the Negro community in the delay of the civil rights that are promised to every American citizen. The use of the semicolons helps to drive the intended message home, as the delay of the end of the sentence can be seen to parallel the delay of the end of racial justice that the Negro community currently faces. The punctuation also helps build the harshness of the intended message in each clause, and in the same sense emphasizes the unfairness of the situation that African Americans face daily. While reading the sentence, one may be questioning when the sentence is going to end; however, the negligence of a period strives to parallel how the hardship the Negro community faces also does not have an ultimate end. The diction used in this lengthy sentence is also significant as King uses words such as “vicious mobs,”” “smothering,”” “distort,”” “nagging” and many more, to emphasize the unnecessary yet dire hardships that African Americans face daily. The use of such words helps to squeeze the hearts of the white moderate, and even the clergymen themselves, to try to bring out their empathy and help them understand the need for demonstrations such as those King advocates. King uses the imagery of telling his daughter the bad news, to empathize with the parents that are in the audience. The emotion seen in this sentence is used to capture the attention of the audience, to ensure that audience continues to read further on to see where King informs the audience how to overcome the racial justice highlighted in the sentence. The use of pathos is seen to emphasize that the time for nonviolent campaigns, the time to rise against racial discrimination is now, that the Negro community have endured such treatment for far too long.
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King’s lengthy sentence seen in the passage is hefty in literary devices, and the use of repetition is implemented in a way to add to the overall emphatic tone of the paragraph. The phrase “when you” is repeated in the beginning of each dependant clause seen in the sentence, which can be classified as anaphora. The word “you” in the phrase emphasizes that this hardship that is described following the phrase, is seen only in the Negro community. The “you” is almost ironic in that sense, because King is addressing his audience, the white moderate, and none of them have ever faced such turmoil that is seen illustrated in the sentence. The use of personal pronouns indicates that the speaker is speaking on behalf of his community. He emphasizes that the African Americans’ purpose of rebellion is different as the Clergymen’s purpose of rebellion. The repetition of “when you” helped establish the tone as each repetition of the phrase adds to the harsh reality of each situation which is depicted in the sentence. By repeating this phrase throughout the paragraph, King is highlighting the need for action, and is constantly reminding the Clergymen, and his audience that the Negro community has waited long enough, and that message is fortified by the description of the harsh realities King mentions in the sentence. King also uses conduplicatio when repeating the word “wait.”” Whenever King uses the word, it is connected to the opposing argument, that the Clergymen are wrong in saying that King’s demonstrations are “untimely.”” The word is introduced in a way to emphasize that the time for waiting is over. The word in once again used in the perspective of the Clergymen, as if the opposing side of the argument to telling King to hold off on his demonstrations, they are telling King to “‘Wait’.”” The word is lastly used by King to tell his audience that he cannot wait anymore. The literal purpose of the long sentence was to prove to the audience that the era for waiting was over, that the time for action, the time for nonviolent protests is now.
Martin Luther King Jr. uses literary devices such as rhetorical questions and metaphors to appeal to her and the Clergymen to state his point in which he believes that the time for nonviolent ways of protesting is now and is also perfectly legal, as seen from the usage of the rhetorical question, “‘How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?’” where it lays out King’s purpose to show that his demonstration are far from “untimely and unwise”. The use of such rhetorical questions help pose to question the logic behind the Clergymen’s argument, where they understate the unjust treatment of African Americans and the Clergymen’s opinion or lack thereof regarding such treatment. King uses rhetorical questions to not only address the Clergymen’s arguments but also to refute them. King also uses metaphors to to clarify his intended message through comparison and to draw attention to specific aspects of his argument in vivid imagery. Early on in the paragraph, King uses the metaphor “horse and buggy pace” to emphasize the conditions that African Americans face, he uses this specific metaphor to point out that while other places around the world are getting closing in on racial equality with “jetlike” speed, the Negro community is moving at such a slow pace, that they are behind in times, while others are moving forward with society. King also uses the metaphor “stinging dart of segregation” to show how the racial justice is just that, a dart meant to hurt the victim, as it not only hurts the African American community, but also the American society entire. The use of the word “darts” is significant as it is accompanied with a negative connotation, so it can be linked to darts that are used by poachers to tranquilize animals, which parallels the Clergymen’s attempt the tranquilize and stagnantize the Civil Rights Movement. The use of imagery further strengthens King’s pathos, as seen with the metaphor “ominous clouds of inferiority.”” The metaphor aids to show how such treatment has a ripple effect, as King shows in his sentence, in a way stating that racial justices not only affects the current generation but also has a negative effect on the generations to come. The racial injustice negatively impact the mindset of the following generation, which makes it harder to pull out from this segregation and pull together as a society to push past this unfair treatment.
Martin Luther King Jr. was an advocate for changing as society treated African Americans in the south. When criticized in a letter written by eight Clergymen, King responded with a letter of his, justifying his actions using rhetorical and literary devices to appeal to the emotions of his audience. King makes a claim using both emotions and logic to create a path to change the mindset of those adamant to ignore the hardships that African Americans face daily. His most prominent argument was that of when he uses punctuation and anaphora to emphasize the dire situation that the Negro community faces, building the tension and harshness through the paragraph, to underwhelmingly yet brilliantly reinforcing his respect for his opposition. Throughout his letter, King appeals to show his audience that his action was wise and were most of all, timely, as the time of waiting for change was over.”