Rhetorical Devices In Letter From Birmingham Jail

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Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail” is a piece of writing that has been influential in the civil rights movement ever since the time when it was written. In the letter, King defends his and his followers use of non-violent protests to ultimately gain civil and voting rights in America. King’s letter was written in response to another letter that was published by a group of Alabama clergymen telling him to give up his movement and let the government handle it. At first glance, a reader may be tempted to read and view King’s letter as effective essentially because of King’s known authority and allusions to his religion. However, a closer look reveals that what ultimately makes this speech rhetorically effective is …show more content…

King also uses the rhetorical device of pathos throughout his letter to effectively sway moderate whites and other members of the clergy to accept his non-violent movement. He says, “We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed” (King 414). This works to gain an emotional appeal from the audience by telling them that they are the only way that this movement is going to work. Additionally, this line creates emotion from the audience through King’s mention of the “painful experience,” which is referring to the constant degrading and violence that these people have had to endure. King means that if they do not continue fight for what is right, they will never achieve what they want to. King also makes an emotional appeal to the audience when he talks about Nazi Germany and says, “We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was ‘legal’ and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was ‘illegal.’ It was ‘illegal’ to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler’s Germany” (King 417). This uses the audience’s strong emotions on what happened in Nazi Germany and relates them to what is happening now in America. By comparing aiding jews and aiding blacks, this emotional appeal allows the audience to think about the movement as a whole and ponder amongst themselves what they are fighting for, and what they want to do. King also appeals to the emotions of all parents by …show more content…

According to the book, They Say, I say, “The more complex and subtle your argument is, and the more it departs from the conventional ways people think, the more your readers will need to be able to place it on their mental map in order to process the complex details you present” (Graff et. al, 58). This relates the King’s letter because of his use of complex language and religion. The allusions to the bible that he uses forces his audience to “process the complex details” that he presents. An example of one of these allusions is when King says, “just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco-Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home town” (King 412). If King were to only rely on these religious allusions, he might’ve missed a big part of the available audience. Although this allusion and the many others King used may establish his credibility and work to persuade his audience, many other rhetorical devices ultimately work better for King to be effective for his audience during the time when it was

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