Pathos in “I have a Dream” Speech by Martin Luther King Jr.

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Updated: Apr 30, 2024
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Pathos in “I have a Dream” Speech by Martin Luther King Jr.

This essay will analyze the use of pathos in Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. It will explore how King effectively used emotional appeal to connect with his audience, mobilize support for the civil rights movement, and articulate a vision of racial equality and justice. The piece will examine specific examples from the speech and discuss how these rhetorical strategies contributed to its enduring impact. PapersOwl offers a variety of free essay examples on the topic of I Have A Dream.

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One of the most unforgettable speeches in America’s history is the “I Have a Dream Speech.” This heartwarming speech marked the beginning of a new era in black history. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered this speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, on 28 August 1963. King gave his speech to an immediate crowd of 250,000 followers who had rallied from around the nation in a March on Washington held in front of the Lincoln Memorial. Things have changed a lot since King Jr spoke before the masses, but the fight he began continues.

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Pathos: The Power of Emotional Appeal

African-Americans are still fighting for equal status. However, King used his powerful rhetoric to show his people a new direction and persuade them to stand united. King was a great advocate of Mahatma Gandhi’s idea of nonviolence and wished that whites and people of color could live together in peace. King imagined a brighter future for the people of color and an environment in which white people could share space with African Americans and create a stronger nation and society free from discrimination. King’s rhetoric was powerful, and millions found inspiration and hope in his words. King started his speech with the lines, “I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.” King’s initial words are a call for unity and to take a united stand against discrimination. With these words, he sets the background and foundation of his speech and his vision of the future that includes freedom, non-discrimination, and long-lasting happiness.

In his speech, King frequently looks back at moments in American history and refers to the leaders who laid the foundation of free America. This adds ethical appeal to his speech. However, King’s speech is also rich in imagery, and his phrases frequently paint the picture of a beautiful dream-like nation where peace and prosperity abound. His speech keeps growing more dramatic and engaging. King tries to make the frustration visible that years of neglect have caused. While reading the speech, one can feel King’s soul in it. His firm faith in unity and benevolence is evident at every stage. There is a clear expression of anger in his speech at the boundaries that have kept African Americans from finding happiness in their lives. The emotional appeal or pathos in his speech grows stronger when King spells out that the freedom and rights the African Americans have been being denied is a debt on the nation, and this debt has kept growing larger – those promises made earlier are like bad checks or hollow spheres. However, hope is not dead, and justice and equality will have to prevail. King speaks with passion and energy but in an urgent tone. His plentiful use of imagery evokes pictures that are strong and meaningful. Phrases like “seared in the flames of withering injustice,” “quicksands of racial injustice,” and “sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent” bring alive the tragedy that repeats in black people’s daily lives.

The Dream of Unity and Nonviolence

King’s dream was a dream of perfect equality, unity, and brotherhood. Millions of hearts of his followers shared this dream. King wanted the distance to his dream to be covered faster. He reasons strongly, speaking of the losses the Black community is bearing because America defaulted on its promise. He uses facts from American history to support his logic. If there is a peaceful method of ending the misery in people’s lives, then it is the path of nonviolence. When he says ‘five score years ago,’ he means it has already been too late. As he repeats one hundred years later, he means that the miseries inflicted on the Black community are rather too many to count, and waiting any longer would be utterly painful. King urges the crowd that the solution can be found if they adopt peaceful and nonviolent methods. “We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protests to degenerate into physical violence.” His focus on nonviolence strengthens his logic. As King explains in the later parts of his speech, the Black community can gain control through nonviolent and peaceful methods and not through recklessness or violence.


King also connects his dream with the American Dream to see that peace and prosperity for Black people can be made possible through nonviolent struggle. King’s diction is expertly placed with metaphors, and he gets emotional throughout his speech. The tone of the I Have a Dream Speech is buoyant and hopeful and all with a sense of determination. His speech was and still is extremely effective. An eloquent call to action, the speech emphasized his belief that the movement of said speech would create a society in which character, rather than color, prevailed.


  1. Martin Luther King Jr., “I Have a Dream” Speech, Lincoln Memorial, Washington, DC, August 28, 1963.

  2. Gandhi, Mahatma. “The Essential Gandhi: An Anthology of His Writings on His Life, Work, and Ideas.” Edited by Louis Fischer. Vintage, 2002.

  3. Brophy, Jere. “Teacher-Student Interactions in Urban At-Risk Classrooms: Differential Behavior, Relationship Quality, and Student Satisfaction with School.” The Elementary School Journal 94, no. 4 (1994): 345-367.

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Pathos in "I Have a Dream" Speech by Martin Luther King Jr.. (2023, Jul 30). Retrieved from