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I Have a Dream: Rhetorical Analysis

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Martin Luther King Jr. wanted life to be fair, enjoyable, memorable, equal, and loving, he wanted to make the world a better place. He went out to people of all nationalities, backgrounds, and ethnicity to make sure that they knew his message because he wanted to spread the word of love and equality. King’s passage in “I Have a Dream” speech, personally connects with every African American out there because he experiences everything that they go through. For example, the bombings, the shootings, and the hatred that they get just walking out of the house and/or walking into the store. The segregation at the time was so unbearable that it tore African Americans to think they are way different than any other average white citizen in the United States. It took time for many white people to understand what black people go through, they ended up joining his team of African Americans and stating, “we need to all be equal, and stop being segregated”. After a while, his message became so clear to the black people, yet so vague to the white people that he becomes a threat to the White Americans in the United States. For him to do these things, he had to go around and use all these different techniques to get the attention of different people because everybody responds to everything differently. Particularly he used ethos, pathos, and logos because those three techniques can get his point across in so little time but has a major impact on the message.

His movement impacted so many future African Americans, Native Americans, Hispanics, and any person with a descendant that is not of the race of white. It has become a day of age where some accept his movement that even though little segregation still happens. We try to ignore it he has impacted everybody's lives with just a simple speech that starts with “I Have a Dream”. Martin Luther King Jr.'s powerful rhetoric in his iconic "I Have a Dream" speech continues to resonate across generations, leaving a lasting impact on the lives of not only African Americans but also Native Americans, Hispanics, and individuals from diverse racial backgrounds, reminding us of the ongoing fight against segregation and the pursuit of equality.

Ethos was part of the speech to get the point across. 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 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 for the future which includes freedom, non-discrimination, and long-lasting happiness. In his speech, MLK frequently looks back at moments in American history and refers to the hardships African Americans had to go through. “One hundred years later the life of the Negro is badly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination.” This adds an ethical appeal to his speech because his ancestors had to go through this. However, King’s speech is also rich in imagery and his phrases frequently paint the picture of a beautiful dream-like nation where unity and peace abound. King dreams of a cohesive society that would not easily fall prey to discrimination or stay divided along lines of color. King’s biggest disgust is that the promises made during the time of Lincoln never became reality and instead African Americans have gotten fed only fake promises. His reference to the Emancipation Proclamation and its promises also adds ethical appeal to the speech. “ This momentous decree is a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice.”

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The emotional appeal or the pathos in his speech grows stronger when King speaks about the freedom, and rights African Americans have always getting denied put debt on the nation and this debt has kept growing larger – those promises made earlier act like bad checks or hollow spheres. However, hope could not be 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,” and “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 dreams do not leave out the white people but care for the joys and emotions of all races. 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 gone through in its struggle for equality and freedom.

King’s dream was the dream of perfect equality, union, and brotherhood which pathos helped with. Millions of hearts of his followers shared this dream. He uses facts from American history to support his logic. If 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 way too late. As he repeats one hundred years later, he means that the miseries inflicted on the black community happens too many times 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 that the Black community can gain control using nonviolent and peaceful methods and not through recklessness or violence. King also connects his dream with the American Dream so people can see that peace and prosperity for Black people can it could happen through nonviolent struggle.

While the “ I Have a Dream” speech is splendid in terms of its use of imagery and thought-provoking phrases, the speech 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 granted the same rights as the whites in American society. However, he was also cautious 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 until they have achieved the same position as white people and can live a life of equal dignity in American society.

Work Cited

  1. King, Martin L Jr. 'I Have a Dream.' American Rhetoric: Top 100 Speeches, American Rhetoric, 28 Aug. 1963. Accessed on 7 Nov. 2019.
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I Have a Dream: Rhetorical Analysis. (2022, December 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 11, 2023, from
“I Have a Dream: Rhetorical Analysis.” Edubirdie, 27 Dec. 2022,
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