On August 28, 1963 at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C, Martin Luther King Junior stood in front of an enormous crowd and delivered what would become one of the most famous and celebrated speeches in American history. King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech during the massive March on Washington in which Americans marched to the nations capital to support equal rights. This speech and the march itself proved to be momentous in the fight for African American’s rights and served as a turning point in the civil rights movement. Martin Luther King Junior’s sought to encourage African Americans to continue their fight for freedom and also to inspire hope that someday they will obtain the equality they desire. To achieve this purpose King employs the use of the rhetorical appeals ethos, logos, and pathos in addition to other rhetorical elements.
Martin Luther King Junior is able to utilize logos through the use of logical arguments. In the beginning of the speech King uses an analogy of a check to set the tone of his speech and establish a purpose. He begins, “In a sense we’ve come to our nation’s capital to cash a check” (paragraph 4). Then he uses this analogy to explain how the Constitution and Declaration of Independence “…guaranteed the ‘unalienable Rights’ of ‘Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness’” and how “America has defaulted on this promissory note…. America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked ‘insufficient funds’” (paragraph 4). This analogy provides a logical argument that African Americans have not received their rights granted to them through the nations legislature. King utilizes this example of logos to incite his audience to take action and fight for the rights they are being deprived of.
To compliment his use of logos, King also is able to effectively establish ethos in numerous ways, which grants him the respect of his audience making his speech even more effective. King enters the speech with an advantage because he already achieved situated ethos before he even begins to speak. His overall image as a leader in the civil rights movement had already garnered him a degree of respect amongst his audience. King was a very well known leader at this point and his ideals of non-violent protest partnered with his actions throughout the entire civil rights movement displayed his ethical nature and earned him the respect of many Americans, especially amongst those in the audience.
King builds on his established situated ethos to further develop ethos within his speech. In the opening of his speech, King begins to establish good character by opening with “I am happy to join with you today….” (Paragraph 1). This subtle but effective opening is the first sign of establishing invented ethos in the speech. King is showing he is humble and grateful for the opportunity to speak at such a monumental event. King goes on to further his established image as an ethical leader by urging his followers to remain moral in their fight for justice. “We must forever conduct out struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence” (paragraph 8). He shows his audience that he is a morally good and ethical person by urging the importance of protesting through the use of non-violence. King was known for his peaceful protests and by preaching this concept he gained the respect of his followers, which made him a more effective leader.
In addition to the use of ethos, Martin Luther King Junior also employs pathos to draw on the emotions of his audience and further his purpose. Throughout his speech pathos is used to inspire hope within his audience. “I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells…knowing that this situation can and will be changed” (Line 75-84). King connects to difficult and discouraging experiences that many in his audience have endured but uses these tribulations as a way to ensure that there is hope that things will change. By recognizing the struggles his audience has encountered he is able to directly connect with members of the audience and appeal to their emotions. He uses this connection as a means to instill hope of a better future therefore furthering his purpose. Another place that Martin Luther King uses pathos is when he says, “I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves, and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table to brotherhood.” (Lines 91-93). King draws on the interests of his audience and inspires hope that one day this may happen and all men can be equal regardless of their background. By painting a vivid picture of what the future may hold, he is able to effectively instill this image in his audiences head and allow them to imagine succeeding in their mission. This example of pathos supports Martin Luther King’s purpose by ultimately evoking the sense of hope within the members of his audience to try to convince them that their fight for freedom and equality is not in vain.
Another way King applies pathos is through the use of anaphora. He repeats particular phrases that are used to evoke certain emotions and feelings within his audience and further his purpose. The repetition of his famous line “I have a dream…” is a great example of how King uses anaphora to instill a sense of hope within his audience. As he repeats the phrase he lists dreams he has for the nation to overcome discrimination and for African Americans to finally achieve equality. This helps to allow his audience the chance to imagine what the nation can become and inspires optimism. One specific example is when King states, “ I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the content of their skin but by the content of their character” (paragraph 21). He appeals to hope but also pairs this with an appeal to a sense of family, which most people can relate to. By expressing a hope for a better future for his children, King appeals to the natural instinct of any parent to want the best for their children. This emotional appeal can be very effective because a parent’s love for their children is very strong.
Another important phrase King repeats is “With this faith…” (Paragraph 27). Following this phrase he outlines positive outcomes to African American’s fight for equality. He enlists the help of metaphors following the phrase “With this faith” to paint a vivid imagine of what his audience can accomplish if they remain faithful and look toward a brighter future. This instills the idea that faith and hope will allow his audience to continue to fight and eventually win the battle for equality. Toward the end of his use of this phrase, King states, “With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day”(paragraph 27). This statement sums up that throughout their hardships and struggles they will indeed persevere and accomplish their ultimate goal of freedom.
Ultimately Martin Luther King Junior’s “I Have a Dream” speech made a huge impact on American history and continues to be a monumental point in the civil rights movement. King employed the use of rhetorical appeals to further his purpose and strengthen the power of his speech. He incorporated logos through logical argument and used an analogy to show that African Americans were being denied their natural rights as citizens. King already established situated ethos because he was a well-known and respected civil rights activist but he furthered this by creating invented ethos through his speech. He developed ethos through his ideals on ethic and moral righteousness. Pathos was an important appeal in King’s speech because he used it to inspire hope for a better future within his audience. Overall, the lasting impression of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech shows just how powerful the spoken word can be when he rhetorical appeals are present.