“Letter from Birmingham Jail” and “I Have a Dream”
Martin Luther King was the most inspirational leader in American history, and his writings have been studied and analyzed to learn the power of rhetoric. The rhetoric produced by King in both pieces of literature appeals to the common audience in many ways. His writings are full of the power of expression, and his implied tone manipulated several activists to put their efforts together for the common objective, i.e. condemning prejudice and racism. In the “Letter from Birmingham Jail”, the choice of words expresses the idea of social transformation for the sake of equality and a racist-free society (Flora, MacKethan, and Taylor 430). The letter was mainly addressed to eight white clergymen. That is why it entailed biblical, sardonic, and classical references.
Hence, this letter is not a private letter: it was addressed to eight white clergymen as well as all modest and wise religious people of the country. The letter contains a reasonable argument to end racial segregation and attain a prejudice-free society for the native African people. Its tone criticizes the behavior of religious individuals with the relevance of equality bestowed by religion. The diction of the letter is both a reaction to the unjust imprisonment and implication of the Birmingham city authorities in racial bias. The letter calls for the equal civil rights for African Americans and protests against their inferior status in the country.
On the other hand, “I Have a Dream” is an inspirational speech to African Americans to realize and unite against civil rights discrimination. He delivered this speech in Washington Memorial and put forth the message of equality in a convincing and evocative manner. The title implies that the dream of King was to achieve common rights for all Americans, and his objective made his diction more persuasive. The tone adopted in it is slightly different from the letter’s style as he spoke to a huge crowd of his fellow caste, facing the same disregard for civil rights like the author did. In his speech, King emphasizes on prevalent religious ambiguity towards equity for Black Americans as second-class citizens in the American dream. Hence, the country and the authorities (white people) want to utilize their capabilities (Negro slaves), but do not want to accept their birthright to freedom and equality. His tone was firm, and his confidence was steadfast. King adapted a preacher-like style to inspire his audience as preachers were considered the most empathetic leaders at that time. The bold statements and rhyme repetitions in the speech made it more fanatical. “The Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize their destiny is tied up with our destiny” (Ayim 777).
From the above lines, one could observe that the speech was not against white people, but only against those who denied the rights of African Americans. His tone in the above lines is gender-inclusive. Thus, the motivational leader, who had been facing prejudice from white people all his life, respected the racist nation. The intelligent and wise leader realized that not all white people had the same set of mind. The rhetoric of the speech signifies the moral aspect of the government’s exploitation of African Americans.
In conclusion, both the letter and speech contained a demand for equal civil rights by the authorities. In the letter, King speaks like a preacher and adopts a straight tone. Yet, in the speech, his tone is more persuasive and benevolent. “Letter from Birmingham Jail” is a reaction to the imprisonment of nonviolent protesters, and “I Have a Dream” is a rational response to the mutual cause of freedom and equality.
Ayim, Martin A. Former British Southern Cameroons Journey towards Complete Decolonization Independence, and Sovereignty: A Comprehensive Compilation of Efforts. Bloomington: AuthorHouse, 2010. Print.
Flora, Joseph M, Lucinda H. MacKethan, and Todd W. Taylor. The Companion to Southern Literature: Themes, Genres, Places, People, Movements, and Motifs. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2002. Print.