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'I Have A Dream' Analysis

Categories: I Have a Dream

On August 28,1963, Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. delivered the monumental ‘I Have A Dream’ speech at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. This speech was intended to reflect King’s social experiences of the mistreatment of African Americans. The speech draws upon appeals to American’s myths as a nation founded to provide freedom and justice to all people. The rhetoric of the speech provides redemption to America for its racial sins. The speech have had a massive impact as it managed to illustrate the racist problems of the time and provide the audience into feeling sympathy while providing hope to the depressed African American population.

The African American activist, leader in the African American Civil Rights Movements, established his reputation as one of the greatest operators in American history. King achieved this milestone through his use of allusion, metaphor and anaphor.

King uses rhetorical devices in his speech such as when he alludes to several different works comparable to the Bible or Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

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Syncing King’s ideas with what is considered righteous by many people, makes the audience remember important parts of the past and helps audience understand the situation, all of which are important to the success of the speech. An example of this is when King begins his second sentence with ‘Five score years ago, a great American in whose symbolic show we stand today’ (, 1963). By using this statement, Dr. King alludes to Abraham Lincoln’s : Gettysburg address, thus arousing a sense of patriotism in his listeners.

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The use of allusion in the opening line also establishes a standard of expectation for the rest of his speech. By using a similar style of opening as Gettysburg’s address he sets a comparison between Lincoln’s speech and his own. Due to the fact that the Gettysburg address is also about human rights and that most people remember Lincoln as being a staunch supporter of blacks. This allusion make the audience remember the line in the Gettysburg’s Address ‘A government of people, by the people and for the people.’ that one of the greatest men in history opposed segregation, which concept he expounds on in the context of his speech (, 1863).

Another impact that the opening two-phrase ‘Five score’ had was the same as the impact Lincoln’s use of the phrase in 1863. This alluded to the grandiose language of the Bible, and thus utilised some of the Bible’s ethos to add power to his speech. Both Lincoln’s and King’s audiences had are majority Christians, by making the audience think that King words are in sync with the Bible, King manages to make the audience feel as if his argument are all definitely righteous and should be supported. Furthermore, it allows King to open his listeners’ ears and hearts, allowing his words to penetrate their innermost emotions, adding an unmatchable force to his words that would give his audience the enthusiasm and the drive for continuing the civils right movement and enduring the resulting hardships ahead. Metaphor, another useful rhetorical device has been used in this speech, are essential to help audiences fully understand an idea as it compares an idea with something the audience is familiar. King uses a series of metaphors in the middle of his speech. He claims that by ‘The Constitution and Deceleration of Independence’, the forefathers of America were ‘singing a promissory note’ that all people, whatever colour, would be granted the same rights.

However, King then says in the view of the Negroes ‘America has given the Negroes people a bad check, a check which has come back marked ”insufficient funds.” (, 1963). Later on, Kings says that many equal rights activists have been ‘battered by the storms of persecution’ and the ‘winds of police brutality’. Through this metaphor, King paints the upholders of the Jim Crow laws, the laws suppressing blacks in a bad light. These two metaphors both relate to ethos as the first metaphor invokes the ethnic of keeping the promises while the second metaphor involves torture, something which most American population was against. Finally, king uses serval last metaphor when he said, ‘With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.’ This metaphor on the other hand, is related to pathos as the audience immediately feels good due to his choice of words.

All of these metaphors are aimed to make the audience realise that continued racial injustice will lead to total chaos while racial equality leads to a beautiful society. Thus, the metaphors Kings uses are effective to support the ethos and pathos as they make the audience realise that the US government are lied to the Negroes increase the effectiveness of the speech.

Martin Luther King also uses anaphora multiple times in his speech as it is also closely related to the rhetorical mode of pathos. Example are when he repeats ‘One hundred years later’ three times in one paragraph and ‘Now is the time’ four times in another paragraph. Through constant repetition, King aims to emphasise his point in the listener’s mind. Another example is when King repeats ‘We will not be satisfied’ multiple times, followed by an example of injustice suffered by African Americans which impresses on the audience that blacks will not stop until they are discriminated against. Other than those occasions, there are other examples, such as when King said, ‘I have a dream that on day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed; ‘I have a dream that one day on the red hill Georgia sons’ (, 1963).

By repeating ‘I have a dream’ in the sentences, King emphasises the fact he can see a new American, an America free from racial injustice and cruelly. Furthermore, the anaphora used here also emphasises King’s point and wish for freedom from all parts of the nation, evidenced by how he references to places all over America. It also backs up King’s pathos as the constant repetition is very useful for arousing the audience’s emotion especially when combined with the moving content anaphora is often used in conjunction. Therefore, the multiple use of anaphor in King’s speech emphasises the point to the audience that the blacks will not stop until the racism are gone and a new America emerge.

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'I Have A Dream' Analysis. (2016, Sep 02). Retrieved from

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