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The Letter from Birmingham Jail Rhetorical Analysis

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Ashley Thompson                                                                           Thompson 1

ENC 1102

Meyers, Cathryn

The Letter from Birmingham Jail Rhetorical Analysis

        In “The Letter from Birmingham Jail” the writer is Martin Luther King Jr. His letter is an open letter, but the letter is directed to the white clergymen. Dr. King states that he is there in Birmingham because of the many injustices that are occurring in the area. He explained the reasons for his non-violent actions, and why blacks deserve to have equal rights to whites. He is defending his non-violent resistance to racism and defends why he is there and why he is the same as the clergymen. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. does a very good job at effectively using ethos, pathos, and logos to achieve his message to the people and his purpose to persuade his readers that it is time for change and just rights.

 When someone uses ethos, they are trying to establish credibility and trying to claim their authority; it is an ethical appeal. A way Dr. King uses ethos to appeal to his audience is when he says, “A just law is a man-made code that squares with that moral law or the law of God.” Dr. King is associating morality with religion while this was going on. He further goes on to appeal to ethos by explaining that he is, “…in Birmingham because injustice is there.” He says this because what is being done is Birmingham is wrong and needs to be fixed now. He also goes on to prove that he is credibly by stating that he is, “…in a rather unique position of being the son, the grandson, and great-grandson of preachers.” Dr. King is so closely tied to the church which helps give him authority in things that are ethically and morally correct. He also responds to the clergymen calling him an “extremist” by claiming that Jesus Christ is “an extremist of love”, Paul, “an extremist for the Christian gospel”, and Amos, “an extremist for Justice.” He

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uses these authorities to help support his own cause in what he does. He is writing to a Christian man and using many, many Christian authorities (as well as himself) to help appeal to ethos and prove his authority.

The next appeal Dr. King uses is, emotional appeal. He appeals to the readers emotions by making the readers feel sympathy. They feel bad for him and what his people and himself are going through. He says, “…our hopes had been blasted, and the shadow of deep disappointment settled upon us.” The readers can feel the hopelessness, and unhappiness from this statement. Another powerful quote from Dr. King is when he states, “When you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your brothers and sisters at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters;… when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and you speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park… and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children”. Dr. King is trying to make is very, very clear how much pain and suffering that himself and his fellow black people have endured. He uses the appeal to family because (most) people how a lot of love for their families, so by giving examples of what they have been through, maybe the white people will hopefully gain sympathy for them.



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