Rhetorical Analysis Essay

John Manfredonia

Cas 137H

Rhetorical Analysis


On August 28th, 1963, Martin Luther King Jr presented one of the most rhetorically inspiring speeches ever delivered. Titled the “I Have a Dream Speech,” Dr. King presented this speech to the “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom” (1) group. As a civil rights activist he gave this speech to not only black Americans but to all Americans so that he could promote the idea of equality.  Because of his audience, Dr. King made sure to make his speech appealing to all Americans. Martin Luther King’s speech successfully conveyed civil rights issues, involving many rhetorical strategies such as ethos, logos, and pathos, to a racially mixed audience whom he viewed as equal, not different.

One key quality of Martin Luther King was his bravery, which was reflected in his speech and actions. At the time of his speech there was a major separation between Blacks and Whites that Dr. King fought against. He was even arrested a few months before his speech during one of his anti-segregation protests, but he continued to fight for civil rights. Ever since slavery ended, Black Americans did not have the rights they deserved, prompting Martin Luther King to create his inspirational speech. Dr. King’s main goal was to end all problems between the different races of Americans, especially Black versus White. In his speech he says: “But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free.” Dr. King directly states the exigency that inspired his speech. Dr. King gave his speech in a setting occupied with controversy, but still managed to make it effective.

After Dr. King refers to America’s past, he transitions into current America and dramatically tells Americans to take action immediately. Dr. King says, “This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy.”  Martin Luther King has such a strong ethos to his audience that he can easily convince them to follow his ideas. His ethos comes from his heavy involvement in the black communities of America. From his protesting to his preaching, many people knew who he was. Many times he refers to how America was supposed to be created on these ideals, so with his ethos he motivates people to reform America into a true democracy.

From the start of his speech, Martin Luther King brings his audience back to the beginning of America when the Emancipation Proclamation was signed, which freed all slaves and gave hope to the former slaves of America. But immediately after Dr. King points out how after 100 years Blacks still do not have the freedom that they deserve. Through this he points out the irony of America because Black Americans were still not truly free.  Immediately after, he alludes to another American document, the Declaration of Independence. He points out how it stated that all men were created equal, meaning black Americans should be equal to white Americans. Once again this shows the irony of the beliefs during Dr. Kings time and the ideals on which the country was founded upon. By alluding to both documents, Dr. King is appealing to logos. He brings the examples up to show how it would be logical for Blacks to have the same rights as whites. Dr. King also tells everyone that the most logical way to protest is peacefully, not violently.  He expresses how being evil will never lead to justice, which is why they need to continue with nonviolent protests. Through his uses of logos, Dr. King was able to open the eyes of his audience to allow them to fight for their rights logically.

The strongest way Martin Luther King Jr. uses anaphora is by repeating the title of the speech: “I have a dream.”  Dr. King expresses his dreams numerous times so people will remember that he wants Americans to live by the idea that people are created equal. He clearly states in his dreams that he wants everyone to get along even if it’s a former slave owner and slave. Dr. King knew the repetition of  “I have a dream” would be so emotionally convincing was that in American society you are told to follow your dreams. And Dr. King’s dream that he presents to his audience is very powerful and inspiring because it reveals his passion. The repetition makes people think about their own dreams and allow them to be inspired by Dr. Kings dreams. Through this Martin Luther King Jr can spread his idea of equality everywhere in America.

Dr. King utilizes pathos be relating his speech to his dreams and beloved family.  Martin Luther King says, “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 by the content of their character.” This famous quote is so emotionally inspiring that it brought tears to so many members of his audience. Dr. King gets very personal in his speech to relate to every American with a family. He knew this would most likely make his ideas more credible. Another reason is it is emotionally appealing is that he makes his own audience think about their own children. The parents in the audience do not want their children to go through the experience of segregation in America.  The only possibility to fix this problem would be to follow Dr. King’s advice. Through becoming personal with his audience, Dr. King is able to convince and inspire people.

In conclusion, Martin Luther King Jr. was strategically able to inspire his audience by using ethos, logos, and pathos.  Due to his prominent background in the civil rights scene, he is capable of using ethos to capture the attention of his audience.  Also, he successfully points out how logically flawed America was because it did not follow the principles it was founded upon. Finally, he uses pathos to emotionally inspire people to take action for the sake of their family and future.  His speech ended up being so rhetorically convincing that it motivated the government to take action on civil rights. It also helped Dr. King achieve a Nobel Peace Award. (1) The results of his speech assure that Dr. King was successful in creating a speech to fix the racial problems in America.



















(1)       “About Dr. King.” The Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change. JP Morgan Chase, n.d. Web. 10 Oct. 2012. <http://www.thekingcenter.org/about-dr-king>.


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