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Analysis of MLK’s “I Have a Dream”

In August 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. electrified America with his seventeen-minute “I Have A Dream” speech. He dramatically delivered one of the most memorable speeches of all time from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. It is worthy of a lengthy study as we can all learn effective rhetorical skills from MLK’s historic masterpiece.

The central argument of the speech is that ALL people need to be treated equally. Although it was not the case in America at the time, MLK felt that it must be the case for the future. He argued passionately and powerfully.

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The entire speech falls into two big parts. MLK uses pathos in both parts to link emotionally with the audience. The first half portrays that racial injustice and segregation are absolutely horrible. For instance, at the beginning of the speech, MLK says that the life of African Americans is “crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination” and that they are living on a “lonely island of poverty” in the midst of a “vast ocean of material prosperity” (1).

This strikes the whites hard emotionally as they listened to MLK’s descriptions of African American’s sadness because they will think that they are the ones responsible for the injustice situation. The second half of the speech paints the dream of a better, fairer future of racial harmony and integration. As seen in the essay, “With this faith we will be able to work together,… to struggle together,…to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day” (5).

The intensity of King’s speech is built through rhythmic repetition. “We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities” (4). Each repetition builds on the one before and is reinforced by MLK’s ever-increasing passion. “Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia… Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi… let freedom ring” (6). MLK paints a picture of his vision and hope in the audience’s mind by repeating “Let freedom ring!” followed by optimist statements.

Overall, the speech is very much loaded with rhetorical techniques. MLK as an accomplished civil rights leader is also a very accomplished writer. His words are very hopeful and deliberate. He is very conscious of his audience and is very commanding of his wording to avoid hurting his credibility with this audience. Personally, this speech is one of the better-written works that I have had the chance to read.

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Analysis of MLK’s “I Have a Dream”. (2021, Feb 17). Retrieved June 19, 2021, from