The Power Of Words - Symbolism and Rhetorical Devices in MLK's 'I Have a Dream'

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In life, we all want to chase our dreams and be able to see them. Sometimes, they can come true and other times they flash before your eyes and are gone within seconds. In Martin Luther King Jr.’s discourse, ‘I Have a Dream’ he wished for America to pursue his fantasy and have it worked out for the future offspring of our nation.

With his utilization of figurative symbolism, incredible expression, and imagery, it enabled him to lay his point obviously and uproariously to the crowd and shape an impression of the principles America was based on. The rhetorical strategies that can be analyzed are ethos, pathos, and logos. In America, every student will have heard/watched or read the significant speech at least once through their educational career, as it leaves unanswered questions to be deciphered by the minds of adolescents, teenagers, and adults. King’s usage of diction creates a logical and emotional appeal that is intriguing to the spectators. Within his speech, he predominately targets African Americans that reside in the United States. Martin Luther King Jr. opens his speech by stating that he is immensely grateful and appreciative for everyone who attended “the greatest demonstration of freedom.” The rhetorical strategy of Pathos is clearly demonstrated in this beginning section of the speech because King’s use of emotion makes the audience feel his message. King, later proceeds to make an exceptionally sensible plan when expressing that the Emancipation Proclamation offered “hope to millions of Negro slaves who had seared in the flames of withering injustice.”

The Emancipation Proclamation was the primary legal paper that gave African Americans the opportunity to extend up the ladder of social hierarchy. Dr King uses repetition to call out the logical and emotional state of African Americans, and utilizes the word “negro.” He depicts that it has been one hundred years after the Emancipation Proclamation yet simultaneously “the life of the Negro is still badly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination”, “the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land”. Martin Luther King Jr repeats the words “One hundred years later the Negro…” Martin Luther King Jr rehashes the words ‘One hundred years after the fact the Negro… ‘ focusing on the group of spectators who is, for the most part, contained African – Americans that they are still under persecution and that must change.

King uses multiple examples of symbolism and metaphorical speech to shine light on the equality for all races. For example, in the second paragraph, there is clearly symbolism and metaphorical diction evident in the speech. He compares the “sacred obligation” that America has given to the African Americans during that time as a “bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds”. He is expressing that America has given promises to the African Americans however, those promises never followed through and failed.

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The Power Of Words – Symbolism and Rhetorical Devices in MLK’s ‘I Have a Dream’. (2020, November 02). WritingBros. Retrieved February 26, 2021, from
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