Rhetorical Strategies of “I Have a Dream”

Updated April 21, 2022

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Rhetorical Strategies of “I Have a Dream” essay

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On the sunny day of August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. proposed his assets about complete impartiality for people of color at the most contemporary civil rights presentation in the historical aspect. The quantity of humans passed over 250,000 people engaging before King in Washington, D.C. This astonish leader ended the segregation of African Americans and helped inspire the Civil Rights Act of 1964, causing great admiration. In the progress of his speech, King stood in the position of courage and persistence. Based on his use of rhetorical appeals, and propaganda techniques; he influenced the great America to trust in the artifact that all human beings are created equal, providing an effective speech in a historical point of view.


In king’s speech, he tends to rely and implement heavily on ethos to convey his message of equalized freedom through artifact of knowledge. Ethos is the profound ethical appeal to the author’s character and credibility “which focuses on the integrity of the speaker” (Beville 42). For many parts of his satisfactory speech, the image of a visualized contentment of the Emancipation Proclamation is present to address credibility to his speech in the following position: “Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today signed the Emancipation Proclamation.”(King). The use of Lincoln’s culminating words helps establish the trust in an informal view with the audience. Furthermore, King, admires the Declaration of Independence to attract the audience by incorporating “unalienable rights” and “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” to capture that the official representation of our nation has not been fulfilled. Thus, providing a sense of credibility as a speaker by portraying his message in a more concrete aspect.


In a more interesting aspect, King uses pathos to engage a poignant continuity from the audience. As reported by Beville, “pathos is about emotion evoked on the audience by the speaker” (42). For example, the duplicate phrase, “I Have a Dream,” applies encouragement for many African Americas during the period of pain and unrecognition. Through a point in his speech he states, that the “Negro…finds himself in exile in his own land.” This example portrays an individual with an understanding concern, showing that he identifies with the unfair treatment given to African Americans. King also uses implied words to enhance an emotional response in the audience by stating, “chains of discrimination” and “oppression” to fortify the need for a new beginning. Making his persistence highly effective.


The final rhetorical appeal that King utilized was the rhetorical technique of logos, which requires a logical correspondence to rationally appeal to the audience. Logos is a rhetorical technique that “involves references to the world shared by the author and audience” (Killingsworth 251). King establishes this appeal by stating, “When the architects of our republic wrote of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. They were singing a promissory note…” The use of his statement provides an actuality on how African Americans live their lives in the United States. His creativity expanded through his use of analogies by stating, “America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked ‘insufficient funds.’” This example uses logic and reasoning based on his basic concept of money and the frustration of receiving a “bad check” as demonstrated by African Americans. In addition, Martin Luther King Jr. portrays imagery through symbolism to engage the reader to think beyond the literal concept of his meaning. For example, his use of metaphors gave a compound comparison when referring to the Emancipation Proclamation as he states, “a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.” Based on his reference to time, he was able to give his audience a feel of relief when expressing his view on slavery, in which many people of color had to compel.


In conclusion, the speech “I Have a Dream” by Martin Luther King Jr. portrays an effective method to transpire and attract an audience. King postulated his posture in the union to form human equality. With the use of ethos, logos and pathos, he was able to capture a higher sense and stand his point of view. His commitment helped lead to the implementation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. King’s use of rhetoric appeals in his speech, made an effective model in history.

Works Cited

  1. Beville, Kieran. ‘Preaching That Persuades.’ Foundations, vol. 0144378X, no. 59, 2008, pp. 42-51.
  2. Killingsworth, M. Jimmie. ‘Rhetorical Appeals: A Revision.’ Rhetoric Review, vol. 24, no. 3, 2005, pp. 249-263.
  3. King, Martin Luther. “I Have a Dream.” March of Washington for Jobs and Freedom, 28 Aug. 1963, Washington, D.C. Speech.
  4. “The Pathos of Speech; The Half-Realised Dream of Dr Martin Luther King Shows That Great Rhetoric Counts.” The Times (London, England), 2013. EBSCOhost, 0-search.ebscohost.com.libcat.sanjac.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edsbig&AN=edsbig.A340620040&site=eds-live.
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