Rhetorical Analysis of “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”

Updated April 26, 2022

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Rhetorical Analysis of “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” essay

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In “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. relies on ethos and pathos to explain the protest against the segregation and Jim Crow laws. King composed this letter to respond to eight clergymen that denounced King and his actions along with others who protested because the eight men thought King and the protesters had bad intentions and wanted to cause violence. King uses various examples based on his own experiences and other people’s experiences that justified the reason he took certain precautions to a nonviolent campaign in Birmingham. For example, in the letter, King stated, “I guess it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say wait.” This supports the reason he believed his response was justified. This quote demonstrates Kings Use of pathos by going into extensive detail about what African Americans had to endure every day by only just being in society and being human. King made sure to let people comprehend his reasons for coming to Birmingham.

Within King’s letter, he uses substantial intense examples that explain the reasoning for the changes that involves abolishing segregation, to make unjust laws just and genuine equality for everyone. For illustration, King stated that people are quick to look in the other direction when unjust things are being shown for the simple fact that it’s not happening to them directly. To portray this to his people King stated: “Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.” This phrase is to show the reader that the African American community needs to stand tall and stand to together instead of turning away from the problem alone, they are to fight together to have equality. King also addresses the need to abolish segregation by saying that in not only Birmingham but in every part of this country there is at least some police brutality towards African Americans. To further prove pathos, King said that he and his people did not have their god given and constitutional rights for at least 340 years or even longer. What King says lets people know just how long African Americans had to wait for the things that were supposed to be given to them from the start. To portray this to the readers King actually compares the nations Asia and Africa to the United States of America. He merely stated that Asia and Africa are moving incomparably faster than the United States of America at gaining the political independence they want. Another proof of pathos within Dr. King’s letter is that he describes the hardship of having to clarify to his daughter why she cannot go to an amusement park in their area because it was not open to African Americans.

What he illiterates to his people shows exactly how segregation is breaking the hope in children’s eyes and altering a simple thing as their personality because they are treated differently for looking different. A final addition to using pathos would be how King gives us insight into how African Americans were handled by the criminal justice systems. King stated that not only did they shove around and use unprofane language with both young and old African American men in the city jail, but they would also not provide them food for wanting to sing. He shows us these traumatic experiences to show exactly how unjust these laws can really be for those of the African American race. King uses a lot of pathos to fully and truly get down into the soul of others for the sole purpose of addressing the change America needed. While Dr. King primarily uses pathos to arrange the majority of this letter, he was also prone to use ethos to establish his credibility and trustworthiness to the people. For example, at the beginning of the letter, King made clear that he feels the men are genuinely good people and that their judgments are only to move forward instead of backward and will only try to his best to make sure he answers them in an easy going and acceptable terms. He said this in hopes to gain the people’s trust in his claims and arguments.

Further proof of ethos is when King said that he is in charge of the Southern Christian Leader Conference. This lets King give the people a strong feeling of just how credible he really is. Southern Christian Leader Conference is stationed all over the southern area, so not only does King run one facility, but he runs multiple. These are not the only examples of ethos that Dr. King uses in his letter. King also raised the question of how he can only follow some of the laws and disregard/break some other laws. King simply stated that he does this because some laws are unjust and some are just. This establishes his credibility because he was accused of being a criminal in the past for parading around, but he was only doing a peaceful protest. Lastly to establish a sense of creditability Dr. King announced that he was put into a leadership position by others. He says this to the people to convey that he is leadership material and that he is not some random guy with no sense of right and wrong.

Rhetorical Analysis of “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” essay

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Rhetorical Analysis of “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”. (2022, Apr 26). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/rhetorical-analysis-of-letter-from-a-birmingham-jail/


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