Rhetorical Analysis Of "Letter From Birmingham Jail" By MLK
In the “Letter from Birmingham Jail” written in 1963 Martin Luther King Jr., he wrote the letter to help protect himself from the accusations of the fellow eight white clergymen, who wrote and issued a public statement about him. Dr. King was in jail because he participated in a nonviolent protest against segregation. He explains his reasonings for his demonstrations on civil rights and hopes to clarify the need for nonviolent actions in the Civil Rights Movement. This letter addresses the white attitude towards black people and how it doesn’t have to be happening. Throughout the letter, Dr. King uses all three rhetorical appeals to help get his point across, especially logos.
Dr. King argues that there should be equal rights for black people and his argument is 100% ethically right. God made man in his image, we were all made equal. We all bleed red, breathe oxygen, and can love. Dr. King’s push for equal rights was the correct thing to do because it helped change our society today. Dr. King said, “Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.” Then why do white people treat black people so different then? This is what Dr. King is trying to address.
Logos relates to logistics and it is used everywhere in the letter, so there are many examples of it. One would be when Dr. King was talking about the nonviolent campaign he said, “In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: a collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self-purification; and direct action.” This appeals to logos because if you think of nonviolent campaigns, all four of these are used. Determining if injustice exist means finding the unfairness in the situation and in this time it was everywhere. You must try and negotiate with peers to see if they are really for this nonviolent act and with the enemy to see if they had a change in mind before proceeding. Self- purification is meant to be the process in which one cleanses the ugliness within himself before he tries to go out and change the world in this case through the civil rights movement. Direct action meant to go do what you set out to do, which is to push for civil rights without committing any violence.
This was very effective for what Dr. King was striving for. He wanted justice but he wanted to do it in a way where no one had to get hurt and Dr. King stuck to his whole campaign series. White men would keep attacking Dr. King and those around him but he never lifted a fist back at anyone. This meant a lot to the civil rights movement because it showed that we can protest for change without hurting anyone, especially for us black folk since we’re known for violence.
Dr. King started his letter with a pathos appeal by saying, “While confined here in the Birmingham city jail,” and this touched me quickly. For starters, he is in jail for basically doing nothing wrong and by imaging what he was going through, you can kind of feel some type of way. Like the feeling of unjust when you feel like something isn’t right and arresting Dr. King for what he did wasn’t right. He wrote this letter while in jail. Like a normal person would be trying to get out as fast as possible and wouldn’t be worried about writing a letter but Dr. King wasn’t like that. He used his time in jail to kind of set the community straight with his letter. After hearing about what the clergyman said about him, Dr. King decided he needed to respond. Emotionally, you should feel for what he did, because most people wouldn’t have done that.
The emotional appeal of Dr. King’s argument worked well. As read the letter you can feel your emotions start to mix around and this makes you think about things. Things such as this nonviolent protest. Honestly, before reading this, you would think this nonviolent protest is bull crap. After reading the letter, you realize that it was the right thing to do because your emotions from before changed. So, the pathos in the letter was very effective.
Ethos relates to ethics or authority but was the least used appeal in the letter. “My Dear Fellow Clergyman,” Dr. King said at the beginning of the letter is a slight of ethos. He used the word “fellow” to address the clergyman. He could have used white, cracker, or any other words to describe them but he kept it very respectful and used fellow. This showed me that Dr. King wasn’t going to snoop to their level and that he wanted to keep everything respectful. Because white men called him a “nigger” he didn’t strike back, he was peaceful which was his goal in the first place. “To a degree, academic freedom is a reality today because Socrates practiced civil disobedience. In our nation, the Boston Tea Party represented a massive act of civil disobedience.” The Boston Tea Party was a protest by civilians to help get what they wanted without true violence. This relates to the Civil Rights movement because they were fighting for equal rights without raising a fist.
The ethical appeal was effective but not as effective as the other two appeals. Like it wasn’t needed but it helped in a sense. It helped justify his point a little, but without it, the letter still would have been fine and would have gotten the point across.
This letter helped do justice to society because it was a powerful weapon used in the battle against segregation. This letter helped motivate the rest of the Civil Rights Movement, which would eventually help cure America of racism and segregation. This topic was very emotional because these were dark times that black people went through and Dr. King helped uplift the spirits of the black community to help everyone come together and fight, without violence, for what was truly right.
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