Martin Luther King Jr.
Has Anything Changed?
In his world-renowned speech, “I Have A Dream,” Martin Luther King Jr. describes his reflection of present-day America and his hopes of the future by dramatizing the disgraceful situation in which America is consumed. In 1963, when this speech was being given to the 200, 000 demonstrators that crowded Washington, D.C., racism was very high, despite the Emancipation Proclamation that had been signed one hundred years earlier. His essay was a major milestone in American history, and serves as a cornerstone to the beginning of equality in America. King’s proposal to the American people of the 1960’s is one of many strong rhetorical strategies used, defined and well rounded by the frequent use of imagery and comparing and contrasting past, present, and future America.
Even today, King’s speech, although originally aimed at demonstrators during the equal rights movement, affects American beliefs about and attitudes toward a more equal society: “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’” His persuasive argument is saturated with dramatic words and optimism, and provides enthusiasm and inspiration in hopes to repair the wrongdoings of the nation for the future.
In order to enhance people’s views on the political struggles of the nation, King uses imagery in his work to provide his audience with a more vivid impression: “this momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice.” He manipulates his words in order to influence people’s views on the topic at hand. His attitude towards the persecution and discrimination of African Americans across the nation is clearly seen through his expressions in this essay: “Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality.” If this passage had been written any less dramatically, its effect on his audience would certainly not have been as meaningful.
Besides imagery, King’s proposals serve as another very strong rhetorical strategy. He encourages other African Americans not to “be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.”
King persuades African Americans to struggle against the wrongdoings of society without the promotion of physical violence. His tactful means of fighting back is also brought by the question of how far they will take this struggle: “We cannot walk alone. And as we walk we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, ‘When will you be satisfied?’ We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality.” King encourages his followers to stay strong in this time of strife and until blacks and whites can live together in peace.
One of the most important, yet not as obvious, rhetorical strategies employed in Martin Luther King’s speech is the comparing and contrasting of past, present, and future America to show change in society. In one case, it reveals the lack of change America has gone through since its childhood years, as far as equal rights are concerned: “Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation…It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity. But one hundred years later, the Negro is not free.” By comparing what was thought to be America’s future with present-day America, it is seen that times have not changed according to what was expected. Although all whites were stereotypically seen as racist 37 years ago, King shows that not all white men were racist by comparing them with