Rhetorical Analysis of A Letter from Birmingham Jail

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In Martin Luther King’s “A Letter from Birmingham Jail”, he institutes himself with the audience as someone they can trust. At the start, King communicates with the readers as “My Dear Fellow Clergymen:” King uses this similarity between him and the readers everywhere in the letter, and in contrast distinguishes the behavior behind both sides. In the third paragraph, King compares himself to the Christian prophets. He implies he is as knowledgeable about the gospel and its history. King explains the disobedience from a story in the bible.

“It was practiced by the early Christians, who were in face with hungry lions and the pain of chopping blocks rather than submit certain unjust laws” (MLK). This emphasized and question of whether the clergyman will end up doing the same. King writes, “My friends, I must say to you…” (MLK). This implies as if he has been a lifelong friend who must confess something because he believes friends deserve honesty. “I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers.” This cushions the storm over the lack of inaction from the church.

King implies an emotional plea. He implies the clergymen are not helping humanity in and out of faith. This makes King say, “At first I was rather disappointed that fellow clergymen would see my nonviolent efforts as those of an extremist.” The clergymen are held to a high standard but are discredited for following unjust laws. King brands the clergymen to those who persecuted Christ. The clergymen ignore segregation as a problem which leads to questioning their belief. King says, “There was a time when the church was very powerful—in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society.” (MLK). King instates the power of the church is descending because of its loss in influence.

King believes the church and its practices can still be relevant. On the letter King says, “I can assure you that it would have been much shorter if I had been writing from a comfortable desk, but what else can one do when he is alone in a narrow jail cell, other than write long letters, think long thoughts and pray long prayers?” (MLK). King emphasizes how the clergymen are in comfort while he is suffering for a greater cause. “I hope this letter finds you in good faith.” (MLK). King discredits the clergymen’s commitment. He believes the laws and policies reflect their true belief.

King indirectly reminds the clergymen he is in jail. “I also hope that circumstances will soon make it possible for me to meet each of you, not as an integrationist or a civil-rights leader but as a fellow clergyman and a Christian brother.” (MLK). He wants to meet the opposition instead of putting them down like they are doing to him.

King uses metaphors in his letter. He talks about how segregation caused suffering and society revolved around it. “We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” (MLK). The strength of the oppressor is detailed in the words demanded and never. King believes segregation should be stopped from contaminating the people.

He mentions the children and the innocent are forced into this undesirable lifestyle. It creates and intensifies hate. King blames the clergymen for creating feelings of insecurity and tragic occurrences. King says, “I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.” (MLK). This sentence reveals how patient King was and the extent he was willing to reach. The word hope suggests he expects the clergymen to compromise. King also says, “There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair.” (MLK).

King is explaining how ridiculous it is to expect for people to wait for change when it is never arriving. King tries to convince the clergymen to adopt his direction towards clarity. He says, “…must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood.” (MLK). Urgency in his letter is identified through the words ‘must’ and ‘need’. The word ‘we’ identifies the entire problem needs to be solved together. He implies the struggle as rising from the bottom to the top. King think it is necessary to identify the problem, so the future can live in glory.

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Rhetorical Analysis of A Letter from Birmingham Jail. (2021, Jun 14). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/rhetorical-analysis-of-a-letter-from-birmingham-jail/



What is the rhetoric in Letter from Birmingham Jail?
In "Letter from Birmingham Jail", Martin Luther King Jr. argues that racial segregation is unjust and that civil disobedience is a legitimate and necessary form of protest against it.
What is the rhetorical agenda purpose of King's letter?
King's purpose for writing the letter was to persuade the white clergymen to publicly support the civil rights movement and to urge them to speak out against injustice.
What rhetorical strategies are used in paragraph 25 of a Letter from Birmingham Jail?
In paragraph 25 of "A Letter from Birmingham Jail," Martin Luther King Jr. uses several rhetorical strategies to make his point, including pathos, logos, and ethos. He appeals to the reader's emotions by recounting the suffering of Birmingham's black community, uses logical arguments to explain why segregation is unjust, and establishes his credibility by referencing his experience as a civil rights leader.
Why does King use rhetorical questions in Letter from Birmingham Jail?
In Martin Luther King Jr.'s, Letter from Birmingham Jail, he achieves the message of racial equality through utilizing the rhetorical devices of addressing the counter argument, rhetorical question, diction, and imagery. King uses rhetorical question to strongly prove how unjustly slaves were treated .
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