The remarkable feature of Martin Luther King’s rhetorical style is emotional appeal and dramatic descriptions. In his essay, “Letter from Birmingham Jail” he uses argumentation and persuasion techniques in order to convince readers in his position and ideas. King possesses intelligence and analytical interest raising the audience to high emotional level. The main techniques selected for analysis are emotional appeal, logic, historical and current examples, testimonials, and fact and figure.
Testimonials help King to give some recommendation to readers based on his own experience and life situations. King directly addresses his opponents: “MY DEAR FELLOW CLERGYMEN” (King). He uses testimonials to make his point and persuade listeners to agree with him. Using “fact and figure” technique, King persuades readers in rightfulness of his views supported by real facts: “the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound” (King).
The audience feels that it is not a voice of the author, but a voice of the leader who really bears enormous burden of segregation trying to help millions of people to become equal with majority. Logic is another technique used by King to appeal to the audience and their mind. Following Walton, “The problem then is to understand generally how argumentation schemes can be seen as being a part of some framework of logical reasoning” (1996, 10). Logic means clearly expressed ideas and facts which allow the audience to follow thoughts and notions explained by the author. In the Letter, every argument forestalls the next one. “In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps … “ (King). Vivid arguments and personal examples are logically connected which helps the audience to grasp the idea of the essay.
Control of powerful feeling intensifies emotional appeal and adds dramatic effects. To give dramatic descriptions with intensity, to make the imagined picture of reality glow with more than a dim light, requires the author’s finest compositional powers. In the Letter, King creates a vivid image of racial segregation as “a burden” with deprives many racial minorities a chance to be free from oppression and humiliation. “We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by oppressor” (King). There is intensity of illusion because the author is present, constantly reminding readers of his unnatural wisdom. Values are universal norms of behavior and conduct followed by all people in spite of their racial or ethical background.
King uses eternal human values in order to join different nationalities and minority groups. “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”(King). The moral quality depends not on the validity of doctrines, but on the moral sense and arguments presented in the work. In both books, a certain amount of plot is based on emotional response. Exclamation marks, rhetorical question and parallel structure of sentences add emotional coloring. He appeals to such human values as tolerance and morals. Idiom and metaphors create sense of reality (How to Be Persuasive. 2001). King deals with his personal sufferings and expresses the effects of the segregation on his fellow friends on a scale of universal significance. Historical and current examples create a sense of reality which helps the audience to grasp the idea of equality and its role in historical process.
The main feature of this essay is that King uses historical information based on reason and expiations of the events which attract attention of the audience. Historical examples include: St. Thomas Aquinas, Socrates, Adolf Hitler. King expects that his letter helps many people to “awake” from long sleeping and start fighting, because the new social order and ideas, and no doubt that in his society the main role is featured to democracy and freedom. “If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity”‘ (King).
Personal tone is an important element of his rhetoric, because it creates a certain vision of segregation and inequality from the author’s point of view (Arguments and Persuasion Techniques in Writing, 1999). His language is logic and accurate, concise and creative. King’s rhetoric has strength, depth and delicacy of feeling.
In sum, in this essay King uses traditional rhetoric techniques which help him to persuade the audience and appeal to their emotions and mind. More obvious rhetoric effects are achieved by explicitly controlling the reader’s expectations with the hopes and fears held by a common citizen.
Works Cited Page
1. King, M.L. Letter from Birmingham Jail. 1963, n.d. http://www.nobelprizes.com/nobel/peace/MLK-jail.html
2. Arguments and Persuasion Techniques in Writing. 1999. http://www.csudh.edu/dearhabermas/argpers.htm
3. How to Be Persuasive. 2001. http://www.rinkworks.com/persuasive/
4. Walton, D.N. Argumentation Schemes for Presumptive Reasoning. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1996.