“Rhetorical Analysis of “I Have a Dream”
The day of August 28, 1963 At the Lincoln Memorial 200,000 people gathered after the March on Washington. This is where Dr. Martin Luther King delivered his speech “I Have a Dream” to America. He spoke about the injustices of segregation and discrimination of African Americans that was taking place in our nation. In his first statement he said, “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.” In this statement he has said what he was there to do. He is speaking out for freedom. This speech is one among few to demonstrate the freedom our nation was built upon. We are a nation of democracy and our nation was built on the fact that we have the right to “alter and institute new government”(Congress). Dr. Martin Luther King’s speeches and demonstrations would provoke a change in the minds and hearts of the American people. He stood up and inspired a nation into action with his words. With his speech he masterfully uses Ethos, Pathos, and Logos in his rhetoric to provide proof to all Americans that racism and segregation is not the intended foundation of America.
As he delivered his speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial he analogizes Lincoln in his speech, “Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the emancipation proclamation.” (King) His use of Lincoln brought authority into his speech. Lincoln was a powerful and great president who empowered the American people throughout the civil war. He gained the trust of America and established a new sense of freedom. Martin Luther King is invoking the authority of Lincoln and his view on civil rights. This is providing a strong ethos appeal and establishing credibility with his audience.
He also uses the Declaration of Independence to invoke authority in his cause. He quotes, ‘“unalienable Rights” of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness”’ (Congress) (bible) his use of this quote is to use a supreme authority as being on his side. He is stating that the American government has neglected on the obligation to ALL of the American people. He is setting up his own credibility by tapping into authority of a great American and our constitution.
His use of pathos is incredible as he strikes emotional values of both black and white people. His use of the bible causes an emotional response, ‘“And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.” (Isaiah) He is using the bible to provide a belief and faith in what he is saying is truth, and that all people will stand together.
His use of metaphors throughout his speech is keeps his audience engaged in his fight for freedom, he states “And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.” (King) He uses the American dream to appeal to all Americans. He is saying that his dream is part of the American dream that we all deserve to have the freedom to dream.
He also uses the appeal that he is a father and that he wants more for his children. “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 the content of their character.” (King) This is allowing the listener to relate to him as a father and the aspirations we hold for our children. It provides a human appeal and uses pathos.
He also uses logos in his analogies. When he states, “America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked ‘insufficient funds.’” (King) His analogy is using logic as a form of reasoning. He reasons is that everyone understands money and that the listener is able to relate to being handed a bad check.
Martin Luther King’s skillful and articulate use of rhetoric in his “I have a Dream” speech was a major turning point in American history and represented a firm stand for equal rights. He spoke out to confront the issues of racism in our nation. This speech was not the beginning or the ending, but a remarkable moment in the fight for equal rights of everyone. “When all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing,” “Free at last! Free at last!” (King)
Congress. Declaration Of Indapendance. Philidelphia: United States of America, 1776.
Isaiah, 40:3. Bible. King James Version, 1611.
King, Dr. Martin Luther. “I have a Dream”. Washington D.C., 1963.