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Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” Speech Analysis Report

On August 28th, 1963, Civil Rights activist Martin Luther King stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, in Washington and delivered the iconic, memorable speech, “I Have a Dream”. At the time, there were many conflicts between black and white men in America. Black men were being treated unfairly, weren’t free, and weren’t treated equally. In the 1960s, King emerged as the leader of the Civil Rights Movement. He delivered this speech to inspire change in both black and white citizens of the United States in the Civil Rights era. The promise of the speech is that both sides accept change in a non-violent, yet effective way. King used a range of aspects including repetition, anaphora, assonance, alliteration, and other rhetorical techniques to convey his message that all people, black and white, were created equal.

Throughout King’s speech, he keeps the audience focused and concentrated on his message by repeating keywords from his theme of justice. In the first paragraph, he used the metaphors, ‘A beacon light of hope… ‘Seared in the flames of withering injustice’ showing how the Negro slaves were promised hope that this injustice would end with the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. King repeats the theme of injustice ‘The Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty… in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity.’ King emphasizes the separation of black and white people, using stark contrasts that help to make his message more powerful. He leaves all the audience, both black and white, with a clear message that the injustice and discrimination being shown to blacks was wrong and it had been happening for too long.

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King makes a strong point of a long time that the injustice to blacks had been occurring and that it isn’t too late to change, but he wanted his audience to feel ‘The fierce urgency of NOW.’ He was impelling everyone to take notice today and t change. In order that Americans understood how imperative it was that change happened, King emphasizes using anaphora that ‘Now is the time to rise, Now is the time to lift our nation, Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.’ King also indicates that the injustice had been not completely settled with the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation because ‘100 years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land.’ The use of the anaphora, ‘100 years later’, suggests that King strongly felt that it had to change because the Negro was still the victim of vicious injustices, still ‘Crippled by the manacles of segregation… chains of discrimination.’

The anaphora conveys King’s message in a more engaging and notable way. It puts emphasis on the important words and makes the message very clear for the audience. The final technique King uses to impart his message is alliteration and assonance. These forms of repetition make the speech flow and help the components work together better. The repetition of sounds makes the speech more catchy and memorable. He repeats the statement ‘I have a dream’ eight times to emphasize his vision for America. ‘I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the Colour of their skin but by the Content of their Character.’ His dream represented the dream of millions of Americans demanding a free, equal, and just nation. His dream became the nation’s dream. ‘We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no…’

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It creates a musical effect in the speech that enhances the pleasure of listening. Furthermore, it renders flow and beauty to the speech.  Attracting more people. Enhancing the reaction. Using assonance helps to develop a particular mood in the speech that corresponds with its subject. ‘We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline.’ King very effectively uses repetition techniques to convey his vision of freedom and equality for all men, black and white. He beseeches the audience to ‘Go back… knowing how this situation can and will be changed ’. King charges his audience and gets a response because he structures his speech using repetition, anaphora, alliteration and assonance. King’s words are mostly about peace, offering a vision everyone can achieve.

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Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" Speech Analysis Report. (2021, May 25). Retrieved August 14, 2022, from