Metaphors in Letter From Birmingham Jail: Critical Analysis Essay

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Near the beginning of the civil rights movement in America on April 12th,1963, eight clergymen announced that Dr. Martin Luther King's protests in the streets should end because they promoted “hatred and violence”. In Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” he emphasizes that he has a duty to fight for justice without the use of violence. King uses rhetorical appeals, provides examples and personal anecdotes, and strong use of literary devices. King successfully conveys his message to his fellow clergymen and the people of the United States that they should have known better than addressing criticism against him.

King begins by presenting his audience with the use of appeal to logic, King’s introduction of the letter is the first instance of the use of ethos. He mentions that he is president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which was an organization that has been operating in every southern state. As he uses the word “president” it meant as he had a status already ahead of him and that he was taking authority as a leader with great desires and with great powers. King makes referrals to himself, for example, he mentions Apostle Paul who was a great leader that many people have considered to be the most important person after Jesus in Christianity. King also specifies the personality of Jesus Christ himself in his letter. Furthermore, he persuades his audience that he wants to make a huge change overall. This change is big enough to make it into history books and influencing enough to get recognized by the people.

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Dr. King is also able to pull the reader’s attention by describing the discrimination and terror that he vividly experienced during his stay in Birmingham. As King states “There can be no gainsaying the fact that racial injustice engulfs the community… its ugly record of brutality is widely known.” This means that there could not be a clearer picture than the one it’s already presenting, the Negro community is experiencing unfair treatment not only in court but in the streets as well. As we know, during this period the organization of the Ku Klux Klan referred to as the “KKK” terrified the African American community by brutally beating and killing those that came in their way or would even be in the wrong time and wrong place. They had not self-remorse and punished children, women, and men. As he goes on, there was a quote that outstood “Many streets in the south would, convinced flowing with blood.” This also gives the audience another representation of the streets and foreshadows how the streets would be with a violent protest, if there is no action done with avoiding this cause then a great risk of harm can be brought to the people. King presenting his understanding of ideas is important because it gives his audience his perspective on what is occurring in depth with his own personal experiences which in this case would benefit his claim and strengthens it for the purpose of eliminating the violence and creating a more peaceful community.

To strengthen his argument, King uses a great number of rhetorical devices in his letter. Dr. King includes metaphors in his letter when he says he sees “twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society.”. This metaphor provides a picture in the audience’s mind of the maltreatment they go through that seems to have no door to escape. They are forced to look at the privileges and freedoms that the white people in their community have, and there isn't a way for this action to stop without someone agreeing with the way King sees the situation and the other African Americans. Also, by saying they are trapped in a tight cage without air in it and barely any space within, it symbolizes the blacks being animals without any rights. King also used a quote that Jesus himself said which was “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” This means, to not get even or mad at those that want to see you fail, but instead appreciate them let them be the reason you are succeeding. Since Dr. King used multiple rhetorical devices in his letter, the audience views his argument as more credible since he has personal experience with seeing how they would treat people unfairly due to color. He felt as if he hadn’t stood up for his people no one else would either. Through his use of metaphors and quotes, the audience has a better understanding of Dr. King’s argument and supports his goal.

King establishes himself as a man with trustworthiness and proved to be an incredible image to those that looked up to him. He wants his readers to know that the change he's bringing is not for a short-term period, but a longer one. Also, King uses emotional appeals to reflect on human rights and mentions the time he spent time in the Birmingham Jail which showed he was desperate to be there. King uses a great amount of logos to justify how the government was set up. Without his use of rhetorical devices, his audience would not be able to truly see the argument he was trying to provide, and this would have just made the civil rights movement as successful and stand out as it ended up being.

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Metaphors in Letter From Birmingham Jail: Critical Analysis Essay. (2023, September 15). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 30, 2024, from
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