The Legacy of Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" Speech

“I have a dream…” One of the most famous speeches ever to slip from one’s lips. Not only is this speech full of inspiration and hope, but is also a portrait artistically designed with rhetorical skills. Let’s take a moment and analyze the work of one of America’s greatest speeches that had such a great impact. Martin Luther King Jr. gave this speech to a group of civil rights marchers as a protest for all citizens to have equal civil rights.

The “I have a dream” speech had ethos, pathos, and figurative language that helped brighten the speech.

Martin Luther King Jr. worked a very big ethos throughout his speech that helped him win credibility, and many people would take the words he spoke more seriously and concerning. Ethos is a very powerful rhetoric tool if used correctly, and King used ethos to his advantage. An example of ethos that he said in his “I have a dream” speech is “I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

” This quote from King is very similar to a verse from the bible in Isaiah 40: 4-5. This means King wanted to accomplish what God wanted which is valued a lot by his audience, so that would give him credibility.

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Also, he quoted a line from another famous speech (The Gettysburg Address) given by America’s sixteenth president, Abraham Lincoln. “Five score years ago.” This is also an example of ethos because he is making other references to famous speeches that speak for the good, so referring to it also speaks for the good. Last, King makes a reference to the US constitution “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” This is a very good example of ethos because he seems well educated and proud of the base where his country was being formed. Which is also valued by his peers since the speech was given at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC.

Next, pathos another key element to getting the audience feeling the emotion you want them too. Many people feel ways based on their emotion and Martin Luther King Jr. does a good job making the crowd feel sympathy for those that don’t get equal treatment because their skin color is different. King says in his speech “I have a dream that my four 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 is a great example of pathos because they pity King because he wished his kids wouldn’t be treated differently because of their skin color and other parents would understand they want the same thing for their children, so by feeling the emotion they agree with King.

Last, Figurative language which can make imagery in your mind and make even the slowest things interesting. Martin Luther King Jr. has lots of examples and different kinds of figurative language in his speech. “I have a dream” and “let freedom ring” which are both mentioned at the beginning and end of many paragraphs. These are examples of an anaphora which is a type of figurative language. Next, is alliteration which is the repetition of similar words, King used a lot of alliteration throughout his speech. “The sweltering summer.” Last, A metaphor is comparing two things which the king also used often. “It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.”

To conclude, Martin Luther King Jr. was an artist at rhetoric using ethos, pathos, and figurative language to connect and persuade his audience to take a stand for his protest. Though they are more different styles he used these are the ones that come up the most and most important. Remember this all started with “I have a dream…”

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The Legacy of Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" Speech. (2020, Sep 13). Retrieved from

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