Question: there are as many different ways of interpreting and valuing texts, as there are readers.
Of the countless speeches recorded throughout time a select few have transcended their original contexts and political battles to retain relevance today. We have viewed their progress over time as their outspoken ideas and reception withstanding relevance within our changing society regardless of altering values. Aung San Suu Kyi, Emma Goldman and Dr. Martin Luther King’s empowering speeches have spanned across decades, united in their aim to draw attention to a lack of freedom, justice and democratic rights and are unique in urging others to support their fight for disadvantaged social groups.
In Aung San Suu Kyi’s “Keynote address at the Beijing World Conference on Women” in China 1995, she speaks with deep conviction regarding the lack of freedom that women suffer. So too does Emma Goldman when in 1917 she delivered “The political criminal of today must needs be the saint of the new age” to a jury consisting entirely of men. The discrimination that these two women discuss exemplifies women across the world, continuously being persecuted for their gender. Suu Kyi did not make use of rhetoric in her speech but instead chose to develop a sense of intimacy and appealed to her audience’s intellect through a close up video recording. Her tone and stoical approach invites her listeners to adopt new perspectives and to include women in the political process as “no war was ever started by women”.
Her campaign continues with an age-old proverb of her culture that “the dawn rises only when the rooster crows” metaphorically depicting how women are subserviently treated today by the “rooster”. The proverb needs to change as it is because the dawn appears that the rooster crows. Goldman too addresses the issue of discrimination by analysing the way women are treated by power wielding men, more specifically in the legal and political system. During her defence against claims of conspiracy she defends her anarchist position and utilises sarcasm and truncated sentences to ridicule the jury when she repeatedly declares that she is facing “Gentlemen of the jury” and only gentlemen.
The anaphora illustrates her contempt that there are no females present in the jury, that these men are supposed to be honest gentlemen, an oxymoron in her eyes, and so should treat her the same way they would treat others in the same position. A personal interpretation examines men’s hold on power in society but times have changed and society must reject traditions that no longer reflect the truth. Suu Kyi’s speech comes at a time when China is stepping out of the shadows and recognising women as their own entities when it once saw them as 2nd class. Its reception today would not have altered since she spoke but there are more people supporting her cause and helping to fight for the freedom of women. There is global understanding that throughout history we are met with the same boundaries and are eternally urged to fight for equality and justice.
These boundaries were met when Dr Martin Luther King challenged the widespread attitudes of society by calling on his fellow American’s by offering “a new leaf” and justice to all, no matter what race or colour. Culture in the southern states was heavily segregated in 1963 and racial division was enshrined in southern custom and law. King delivered his speech when it was needed most, however Emma Goldman delivered “The political criminal of today…” ahead of her time as the mere idea of freedom of speech was considered scandalous. With two separate causes represented by great speakers; Negro’s and free speech, both composers attempted to win their audiences support for their cause.
King delivered “I have a dream” to a crowd of 250,000 followers and millions watching on television and used rhetoric gained from his preaching days coupled with the use of many anaphora’s to effectively to inflict fear upon his audience. His appeal to their emotions instilled that “it would be fatal…to overlook…the movement” and unless something is done about racial injustice, life is worthless. Emma Goldman’s clever use of rhetoric defies tradition and unlike King’s use of emotion she alienated her audience by stirring negative opinions and called upon her intellect to win her battle. In 1917 when Goldman plead to the jury she sought justice in her defence against claims of conspiracy. Urging the court to form an unbiased opinion and recognise her fight for freedom of speech she alludes to her fellow so called anarchists “Jesus, Socrates, Galileo, Bruno, John Brown” to prove she is not wrong and that nothing will make her change her position.
King was greeted with an euphoric and peaceful reception as he was seen as a freedom fighter and today in our contemporary world the significance of his speech remains evident. By appealing to both audiences’ intellect regarding injustice, King and Goldman aimed to persuade their respective audiences of the right path to choose. When King bellows out that “the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination”, his metaphoric emotive language heightens his passion for freedom for his people from more than slavery.
Similarly to King, Goldman fights for justice and through a series of rhetorical questions she asks the jury a final time to “please forget that I am an Anarchist…Have we been engaged in a conspiracy? Have these overt acts been proven?” She asks for a fair trial and to not be disadvantaged because of society’s values – she only wishes for justice to prevail. Sadly the jury found her guilty but her works reception reaches a higher extent today as we can appreciate her effort in changing society’s perception of free speech.
While injustice was inflicted upon three social groups, Aung San Suu Kyi, Emma Goldman and Dr. Martin Luther King stood up and were three speakers who managed to defy old-fashioned social and political beliefs of their time to be recognised in our contemporary society. When delivering their speeches they gained the attention and support of a crowd through their stage presence, use of rhetoric and particularly political contextual values that aim to achieve this. In order to be recognised they needed to give their audience a purpose and through earnest ideas of freedom, justice and democratic rights their reception has not altered from when they were delivered to now as we are continually fighting for such causes.