Rhetorical Analysis of I Have a Dream Speech

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  • Post last modified:May 19, 2021
MLK Jr. Speech Analysis

One of the most unforgettable speeches in America’s history is the “I Have a Dream Speech.” This heartwarming speech marked the beginning of a new era in black history. Things have changed a lot since King Jr spoke before the masses, but the fight he began continues. African-Americans are still fighting for equal status. However, King used his powerful rhetoric to show his people a new direction and persuade them to stand united.  King was a great advocate of Mahatma Gandhi’s idea of nonviolence and wished that the whites and people of color could live together in peace.

King imagined a brighter future for the people of color and an environment in which white people could share space with African Americans and create a stronger nation and society free from discrimination. King’s rhetoric was powerful, and millions found inspiration and hope in his words. Here is a rhetorical analysis of his speech that focuses on ethos, pathos, and logos. It analyses the charm and power of his speech. Martin Luther King Jr. had delivered this speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC on 28 August 1963.

ETHOS:

King started his speech with the lines, “I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.” King’s initial words are a call for unity and to take a united stand against discrimination.  With these words, he sets the background and foundation of his speech and his vision of the future that includes freedom, non-discrimination, and long-lasting happiness.  In his speech, King frequently looks back at moments in American history and refers to the leaders who laid the foundation of free America. This adds ethical appeal to his speech. However, King’s speech is also rich in imagery, and his phrases frequently paint the picture of a beautiful dream-like nation where peace and prosperity abound. King dreamt of a cohesive society that would not easily fall prey to discrimination or stay divided along the lines of color. King’s biggest disgust is that the promises made during Lincoln’s time never became a reality, and instead, African Americans have been being fed only fake promises.  His reference to the Emancipation Proclamation and its promises also adds ethical appeal to the speech.

PATHOS:

His speech keeps growing more dramatic and engaging. King tries to make the frustration visible that years of neglect have caused. While reading the speech, one can feel King’s soul in it. His firm faith in unity and benevolence is evident at every stage. There is a clear expression of anger in his speech at the boundaries that have kept African Americans from finding happiness in their lives. The emotional appeal or pathos in his speech grows stronger when King spells out that the freedom and rights the African Americans have been being denied is a debt on the nation, and this debt has kept growing larger – those promises made earlier are like bad checks or hollow spheres. However, hope is not dead, and justice and equality will have to prevail. King speaks with passion and energy but in an urgent tone. His plentiful use of imagery evokes pictures that are strong and meaningful. Phrases like “seared in the flames of withering injustice,” “quicksands of racial injustice,” “sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent” bring alive the tragedy that repeats in black people’s daily lives. King presents two pictures; one is the everyday reality of African American lives, and the other is his dream. His dream does not leave the white people out but cares for both the races’ joys and emotions. His motive is to inspire energy and life into the relationships between the two races. He seeks to bring together the black and white communities and help them live as equals. The emotional element in his speech grows stronger as he speaks of the various forms of torture the black community has been through in its struggle for equality and freedom.

LOGOS:

King’s dream was a dream of perfect equality, unity, and brotherhood. Millions of hearts of his followers shared this dream. King wanted the distance to his dream to be covered faster. He reasons strongly speaking of the losses the Black community is bearing because America defaulted on its promise. He uses facts from American history to support his logic. If there is a peaceful method of ending the misery in people’s lives, then it is the path of nonviolence. When he says ‘five score years ago,’ he means it has already been too late. As he repeats one hundred years later, he means that the miseries inflicted on the Black community are rather too many to count, and waiting any longer would be utterly painful. King urges the crowd that the solution can be found if they adopt peaceful and nonviolent methods. “We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protests to degenerate into physical violence.” His focus on nonviolence strengthens his logic. As King explains in the later parts of his speech, the Black community can gain control through nonviolent and peaceful methods and not through recklessness or violence. King also connects his dream with the American Dream to see that peace and prosperity for Black people can be made possible through nonviolent struggle.

While the speech is splendid in its use of imagery and thought-provoking phrases, it is highly emotional in tone. King did not want the African American people to lose sight of the dream of complete freedom, which was possible only when they were given the same rights as the whites in American society. However, he was also cautious that the protest must not degenerate into physical violence or adopt methods that lack dignity. Years have passed since King spoke, but the passion in his words gives the African Americans hope and energy to continue their struggle till they have achieved the same position as white people and can live a life of equal dignity in the American society.

Sources:

https://www.archives.gov/files/press/exhibits/dream-speech.pdf

CITE THIS:

MLA:

Pratap, Abhijeet. “RHETORICAL ANALYSIS OF I HAVE A DREAM SPEECH.” Notesmatic, Oct. 2019, Pratap, Abhijeet. “RHETORICAL ANALYSIS OF I HAVE A DREAM SPEECH.” Notesmatic, edited by Abhijeet Pratap, Notesmatic, Oct. 2019, notesmatic.com/2017/06/rhetorical-analysis-dream-speech/.


APA:

Pratap, A. (2019, October). RHETORICAL ANALYSIS OF I HAVE A DREAM SPEECH. In Notesmatic. Retrieved from Pratap, Abhijeet. “RHETORICAL ANALYSIS OF I HAVE A DREAM SPEECH.” Notesmatic, edited by Abhijeet Pratap, Notesmatic, Oct. 2019, notesmatic.com/2017/06/rhetorical-analysis-dream-speech/.

Abhijeet Pratap

Abhijeet has been blogging on educational topics and business research since 2016. He graduated with a Hons. in English literature from BRABU and an MBA from the Asia-Pacific Institute of Management, New Delhi. He likes to blog and share his knowledge and research in business management, marketing, literature and other areas with his readers.