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Rhetorical Analysis Example of Letter from a Birmingham Jail

Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” can be deemed as one of the seminal examples of perfect usage of rhetorical devices to evoke the reaction of the audience. King shares his personal perspective with the clergymen through the contextual letter. He talks about the racial issues encompassing society. An introspective analysis of the letter can make one reckon how King uses his persuasive skills while writing the letter and communicating his views as a rebuttal of the clergymen’s perspective about King’s methods and actions. King argues that he wants to make a better society for everyone. He opines about the paramount role of the government to ensure positive conditions for everyone in society. The ultimate success of “Letter from Birmingham Jail” lies in communicating King’s arguments about racial segregation impact clergymen and American people who could understand the primary importance of equality in society.

The contextual letter involves the use of various logical explications by King. King engages in arguing about the notion of ‘unjust’ law. While trying to substantiate his argument, King defines such laws. He even provides examples of how such unjust laws are enforced. He explains how society is characterized by discrimination. He even draws a comparison between just laws and unjust laws. King argues that the law that individuals must follow and the law utilized for arresting him are not the same. His arrest is mentioned as the action of an ‘unjust law.’ King logically explains that the laws are defined in a way that makes way for white supremacy. King explicates how there is an ugly record of brutality against black people in Birmingham. The blacks have experienced very unjust treatment in the judicial system. Birmingham had witnessed the most number of unsolved bombings of black churches and homes in the entire nation. These brutal facts are highlighted by the author (King 303). King argues that the black people are left with no other option other than standing up against the discriminatory practices. The letter argues that white people discriminate against black people. The black people are denied their fundamental rights that are granted by the US constitution and the Almighty. The use of logos by King leaves a lasting effect on the readers. The author also justifies his stand by saying that others should come and see his condition in the prison to comprehend the distinction between white and black prisoners’ treatment. The logical appeal of the letter simply proves how effectively King could integrate the persuasive technique in his writing to convince the readers about the problem of racial discrimination and the need to stand up against the status quo of racism at that time in society.

On the other hand, King also uses pathos in the best possible manner in this letter. He uses pathos to bring out the scenario of human rights. King goes on to evoke the emotions of his readers by writing about the manipulative aspects of law enforcement. He talks about the abduction of fundamental human rights by clergymen. King acknowledges that the need of the permit for which he was jailed is not at all an issue. He had expected the authorities to intervene as he knew the law. He passionately argues that the treatment meted out to them in the prison undermined the parameters of human rights. King further evokes the emotions by saying that African American people have waited too long for gaining their rights. King writes, “We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God given rights
(King 305). The acts of racial discrimination exuded the imposition of subordinate status on black people. He even endeavors to persuade his readers to know the extent of human rights violation meted out to the black people. It is comprehensible that King aims to expose the reality of the scenario of racial discrimination to his readers. He stirs his readers to the core by talking about the mistreatment and poverty of black people. The readers find his emotional portrayal of how black people do not get most privileges in their lives. Thus, he aims to exclusively appeal to the black community emotionally. The apt use of pathos in this letter portrays how King wanted his readers to think about the issues with utmost importance from the core of their hearts.

The letter also uses ethos to catapult the appeal. King portrays his own persona by saying that he is the President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and had the right to operate in all the Southern States of the country. He engages in creating a moral connection with his readers by portraying himself to be a person with authority. The portrayal also makes his words more credible to the readers. King even compares his own self to Apostle Paul to catapult his position of influence described how Apostle Paul had traveled far to spread the word of God (King 302). He is conspicuous in his aim to communicate the notion that he intends to make way for a revolutionary transformation. Thus, it is clear that King wants his readers to see him as an emancipator of the black people from the clutches of racial discrimination. King uses certain historical elements to enhance his credibility. He establishes his position so that his readers are moved by his words even more. In this manner, the holistic persuasive appeal of the text penned by King gets heightened.

So, one can conclude by saying that the quintessential use of ethos, pathos, and logos in this letter leaves a lasting impact on the readers. The letter was aimed to persuade the black community into supporting King’s cause. Moreover, it was meant to counter the criticism that King had faced himself for his actions. Martin Luther King establishes himself as a credible leader through his persuasive appeal. His letter can surely be deemed as a significant historical document. The writing embodies the true essence of the vision of racial equality and respectable position for African American people in a society that was characterized by vehement racial bias and prejudice for many years. The letter helped King gather more support for his ambition. The use of various rhetorical devices testifies to the idiosyncratic appeal of Martin Luther King as a leader of black people.

Works Cited

King, Martin Luther. ““Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” Classic Rhetoric for the Modern

Student, edited by Edward P.J. Corbett & Robert J. Connors. New York: Oxford

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