Martin Luther King's Rhetorical Strategies in I Have a Dream

One of history’s most critically acclaimed speeches, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. addressed thousands of people with his “I Have a Dream” speech which had been given during the March on Washington on August 28, 1963. By giving this speech King hoped to end racial injustice in the U.S., and hoped unify the country by creating equal rights for everyone. King’s goal was to persuade those who were against equal rights to understand what is it like to live without “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” and wanted to convince his audience to join him as well as many others to fight for equality.

In addition, King also addresses those who were previously in favor of equal rights but had lost faith, and called upon Americans to recognize the injustices of the nation and to correct them. King while giving his speech put on a persona of a well-educated individual, and activist who can speak on the matter of racism and how to better racial injustice in the United States.

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In his speech King used rhetorical strategies such as metaphors, allusion, and repetition.

A rhetorical strategy used by King in his speech are metaphors. Using metaphors allowed his speech to connect more with the audience by making them visualize what he is comparing. For example, King compares cashing a check at the bank to equal rights when he says, “In a sense we’ve come to our nation’s capital to cash a check,”(King 1), then says later on in his speech to the audience “not [to] seek to satisfy [their] thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred,”(King 3).

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Even Though these two examples are both clearly unrelated since there are two different metaphors being used, they provide clarity in King’s speech helping his audience have a better understanding of the main point he is trying to get across. Since the audience were able to visually compare, this helped them have a more clear understanding of King’s statements. In addition, King’s use of metaphors made his speech sound euphonic, and made his arguments more understandable.

The second rhetorical strategy used by King in his speech is repetition. When King repeats in his speech “I have a dream” he is able to portray what he sees as a better future where all men and women are being treated equal and makes this the main point of his argument. Imagery and anaphora work together with the use of repetition allowing the audience to get a better understanding of the importance of what King is saying as well as the situation. King is hoping for a racially equal America, and explains this to his audience by repeating the phrase “I have a dream” eight times. The dreams that King presents to his audience are both powerful and motivating. King also uses repetition when he says, “this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,”(King 4). Although the repetition here is not dramatic it is still very effective since it makes King’s message unforgettable by allowing him to get his point across. As a result, King’s use of repetition helped him assure that his message would be a reminder to his audience that there is always hope for a better future regardless of what they might think.

The other rhetorical strategy used by King is allusion. The times King uses allusion in his speech are unforgettable. An example is when King says, “Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation,”(King 1). King is referring to Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, where Lincoln begins with “Four score and 7 years ago.” The allusion that King is using here is to mention the Gettysburg Address at a minimal to cut down the amount of unneeded information. King by doing so is expecting his audience to know what five score means, and to know that Abraham Lincoln was the one who signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

By his audience having knowledge on the information King gave, the beginning of his speech flows smoother, and allows him to get to this point much faster. This allusion helps King achieve his goal by comparing his beliefs and cause to that of Lincoln’s. The use of Lincoln brought authority into King’s speech by strengthening his argument for racial equality since he is proving to his audience that the President of the United States himself (Abraham Lincoln) supported the same goal that he is trying to accomplish which shows the audience how important his cause truly is.

In conclusion, Martin Luther King Jr. uses different rhetorical strategies to make sure that the point of his speech is understandable, and effective to maintain the audience’s attention. All the strategies he used contributed to the effectiveness of his speech in which moved millions. The use of metaphors, repetition, and allusion, helped King compromise the argument about racial equality in the United States in a manner where the audience were able to relate to it as well as perceive it.

Updated: Mar 11, 2022
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Martin Luther King's Rhetorical Strategies in I Have a Dream. (2021, Apr 26). Retrieved from

Martin Luther King's Rhetorical Strategies in I Have a Dream essay
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