Critique on “I Have a Dream” by Martin Luther King

Link To Original Speech

Martin Luther King was born on January 15, 1929. He studied in public schools in Georgia, a state of America and later, he received his B.A. degree in 1948 from Morehouse College, a Negro institution of Atlanta. He was himself a Negro and was always a strong worker for the civil rights of the people belonging to the Negro community. He got engaged in various domestic rights’ boycotts and protests while struggling to gain victory and later, emerged as a great Negro leader. While he was on his mission of protesting in different cities, he directed a peaceful march on Washington D.C. of 250,000 people to whom he delivered the great speech,” I Have a Dream”. In his speech, “I Have a Dream“, King speaks for the freedom of those people who were getting highly affected by the concept of racism in America, especially the Negros, who were being treated more like animals and less like humans. He illustrates the problems faced by the Black community in the United States of America and provokes the feeling of sympathy in the audience for the Blacks. He provides hope for a better future to the members of his race and advises them to keep their morale and spirits high. While analyzing the speech, one can notice that Martin Luther King Jr., in this speech “I Have a Dream”, very influentially uses several rhetorical devices like metaphors, anaphora, parallelism, and personification, provoking emotions of the audience more powerfully. Also, he uses the three modes of persuasive appeal i.e. ethos, logos, and pathos and structures his speech very well to appeal to different types of audience. His tone is passionate and poetic which instills influential emotions among people. Moreover, he gives various examples to present his argument proficiently. The massive impact of the speech “I Have a Dream” is because it gives a reflection of the conditions of the time when Negros were treated as slaves and they were kept deprived of their rights and whites were in charge. King directs his speech towards three types of audience: the Negros, the Whites who do not really hate the Negros and the Whites who are extreme racists.

King starts his speech with the assertion that despite the execution of Emancipation Proclamation hundred years ago, the Negroes of America do not enjoy equal rights as the white people do. He advises his audience to protest peacefully for their rights and uphold their stand against injustice until they are assured equality. He admires the courage that his audience had shown during their hardships. He shows his audience his dream of justice for everyone and advises his audience to work with the faith in freedom to attain those dreams.

King uses a passionate and poetic tone throughout his speech to make his speech more influential and powerful. The repetition of strong words “let freedom ring” (6) and “we cannot be satisfied” (3) again and again shows that how passionate he is about his aim and how badly he wants the audience to stand up for their freedom. He also sings the poem “My country, ‘tis of thee, sweet land of…every mountain side, let freedom ring.” (5) to provoke the passion of the Negros for their freedom in an emotional and effective way.

King makes his speech more effective by using various rhetorical devices because these devices help promote the key objective of the speech in a more influential and convincing way. One, on reading his speech, can observe a frequent use of anaphora in his speech. For example, when he says, “Now is the time…”, he repeats “Now is the time” (2) again and again to put emphasis on his stance that Negros have had enough of injustice and now, the time has come to fight for freedom. He tries to make them realize the urgency of time. King uses another anaphora “I have a dream” (4) emphasizing on the main objective of his speech in an emotive way. He provokes emotions of the audience by giving freedom the name of his dream. He gives his audience the idea that freedom is like a dream for them and they have got to get this dream come true at any cost. The use of another anaphora “We cannot be satisfied” (3) helps King give his audience a strong instinct that they would not be satisfied unless or until they get whatever they are fighting for. Freedom is what they need and they would not be satisfied until they are granted the freedom. They would go beyond boundaries in order to achieve their aim. They would not give up or get satisfied over anything other than getting freedom. This develops a strong emotional urge in the audience to fight for their rights.

King also uses metaphors and personifications to make his speech more effective and appealing, provoking the emotions and passion of the audience. King uses different metaphors throughout his speech like: Negro slaves had been seared in the “flames of withering injustice” (1), Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of “a vast ocean of material prosperity” (1), Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an “invigorating autumn of freedom and equality” (2), Mississippi is a state “sweltering with the heat of injustice” (4), we will be able “to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope” (5), etc. All these metaphors do the work of enhancing the passion of the audience for freedom by creating diverse feelings of anger and disappointment in them. This anger intensifies in them the urge of fighting for freedom. The use of metaphor “battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality” (4) incites a strong, fierce and emotional urge in the audience to fight for their rights. It reminds them of the worst treatment they had been facing for so many years and leaves them with more anger and passion of achieving their aim. King also uses the metaphor that racism is a “dark and desolate valley” (2) while racial justice is a “sunlit path” (2). This metaphor makes the audience realize that they are living in a dark and desolate valley and the only way to get out from this valley is to stand for their freedom. This is what which will help them climb to the path which is bright and sunlit. Moreover, King uses personification in his speech in order to promote his argument in a more attractive and significant way. King personifies America as a sweet land of liberty giving an idea that freedom of different communities would create a peaceful environment in the US and would make it a serene land of liberty. Use of this personification gives hope of a better future to the audience in a more effective way which ultimately provokes them to stand for their rights.

King also uses the scheme of parallelism throughout his speech. The use of parallelism is helpful in emphasizing the ideas to the audience in a more convincing way. When King writes: we will not be satisfied until “justice rolls down like water” (4) and “righteousness like a mighty stream” (4), he actually emphasizes the point that African American need justice and freedom. This creates good feelings in the audience and en-flames their hearts with the urge of getting freedom.

In the speech, King presents his argument effectively by signifying various events. As he says that “Five score years ago a great American…come here today to dramatize a shameful condition” (1), he gives a strong example of how the Negro have always been ignored and how their rights have always not been considered in the first place. This provokes even stronger feeling in the audience for fighting for their rights. It directly hits their emotions and creates an ever new passion in them to contest for their liberty. When King says that “When the architects of our Republic wrote the magnificent…the riches of freedom and the security of justice” (1), he reminds the members of his race of disobedience of promissory note by America. The promissory note which was subjected to the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, to which every American was to fall, heir, was directly rejected by America. This reminder of injustice committed by America provokes a stronger feeling in the audience to cross any kind of obstacles to achieve freedom. It makes them ready to sacrifice even their lives in order to seek justice. It incites their emotions that he envisioned in his dream.

King makes his speech more effective and gives it a proper structure by using three modes of persuasive appeals. One of them is pathos which is an effective mode of directly utilizing human emotions. King makes an influential use of pathos when he describes the Negros as being “crippled” by the “manacles of segregation” and “chains of discrimination” (1). Through this, he makes the audience feel that the Blacks are in a state of great despair and catastrophe. They are being given the punishment for hollow reasons. King constantly tries to create the feeling of sympathy in the audience for the Negros to make the Whites realize that the Negros are the unfortunate victims of racism in America. He tries to create the feeling of hatred for racism in the hearts of the Whites so that they may become friends with the Negros and stand with them for their rights. King gives an emotional appeal to the audience when he compares the situation of the Negroes as to being stranded on a “lonely island of poverty” while the Whites around them are indulging in an “ocean of material prosperity.” (1) This makes the Whites realize that it is not the Negros who are dumb but it is the society of America which is not letting the Negroes stand up. King tries to melt the hearts of the Whites by making them feel ashamed of racism when he says that black children are “stripped of their selfhood and dignity” by “signs stating ‘For Whites Only’” and that black people are “judged by the color of their skin” instead of the “content of their character.” ( Rhetorical Analysis…a Dream” Speech). The use of strong words helps the King to directly strike the heart of the audience.

Other than pathos, King also uses the other two effective modes of strong appeal, logos and ethos. Most people believe that it is immoral to break the promises; promises are meant to be kept and not to be broken. King gives his audience an ethical appeal by making them realize that the Whites have broken their promises to the Negros. He reminds them of the “bad check”, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds” despite the “promissory note” of the “Constitution and Declaration of Independence” (2). King gives a tender feeling to the Whites by making them realize that they are being ruthless by accepting the concept of racism in America. King gives a logical reasoning for his argument when he mentions that “five score years ago,” (1) Lincoln signed the “Emancipation Proclamation” (1) that declared the freedom of the Blacks and also that the Blacks were not to be treated like slaves. King uses this piece of evidence to make the audience realize that Lincoln, who was one of the most respected personalities in America, stood for the rights of the Negros and supported their freedom to such an extent that he even signed the liberation agreement.

King employs influential rhetoric with the aim to engage his audience with him. He makes very effective use of different components of literature. Use of rhetorical devices like metaphors and personification enables the audience to stay attentive until the end of the speech. King repeatedly makes use of anaphora to emphasize his dream and make the audience memorize his ideas of freedom in a significant way. The employment of parallelism provides a continuous flow of the sentences which permits the listeners to readily absorb his motives. His excellent use of vocal skills appeal to the basic ethics and moral values and provoke strong emotions. The whole speech is well-ordered and well-structured. Firstly, he makes his claim, then indulges his audience into his speech and then, proposes his own proposal in the form of his dream. He uses a very zealous and poetic tone. He clears his speech from all sorts of racial discrimination by claiming that the white people are also a part of his audience. Moreover, his arguments, proving the rights of the Blacks and negotiating the racial discrimination in America, are logical and flawless. He completely wins the hearts of his audience and succeeds in convincing the audience to his idea of getting freedom envisioned by his dream.

Works Cited

King Martin Luther. “Martin Luther King Jr. – Biography”. Web. 1964.
L. Anson, Chai Won and Hong Kong. “Rhetorical Analysis of the “I Have a Dream” Speech”.     Teen Ink. Web.

Featured Image Credits: Photograph by Julian Wasser, Time Life Pictures/Getty Images

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