Monday, 16 February 2009

Assignment on Rhetoric - Ajit Daniel, II BA English


Forty-six years ago, a man had a vision, a vision of hope, a vision of freedom, a vision of victory. And now, looking back into the sands of time, that vision, that dream has become a reality.

Martin Luther King, the man, electrified America with his momentous "I Have a Dream" speech, dramatically delivered from the steps of the Lincoln memorial. His soaring rhetoric demanding racial justice and an integrated society became a mantra for the black community and is as familiar to subsequent generations of Americans as the US Declaration of Independence. His words proved to be a touchstone for understanding the social and political upheaval of the time and gave the nation a vocabulary to express what was happening.

Historical Significance:

The spring and summer of 1963 proved to be one of the most important times of the Civil Rights movement. On June 12, Medgar Evers was assassinated; white supremacist Byron de la Beckwith would not be found guilty of his murder for nearly thirty years. In April, 1963, protest against discrimination in the downtown department stores of Birmingham, Alabama, culminated in protests on April 4. King's arrest during these demonstrations and the media coverage of police violence against the demonstrators catapulted both the movement and King, the leader of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), into the national spotlight to an even greater degree than before. The boycotts and mass marches eventually provided sufficient pressure that white leaders promised to desegregate the stores' facilities, hire African Americans to work in the stores, and establish a biracial committee for ongoing talks concerning racial problems.

These gains were achieved at a price, however: King was jailed briefly; police brutality occurred against protesters; and arrested protesters filled Birmingham's jails. Nevertheless, the filled jails negatively affected the capacity of police to arrest and hold demonstrators, which was exactly what King and other civil rights leaders had hoped; news coverage of police brutality outraged many citizens; and, while jailed, King wrote his "Letter from Birmingham Jail," a document that delineated the need for and goals of the direct action campaigns of the Civil Rights movement. The acclaim that met this document foreshadowed the reaction to his speech at the March on Washington two months later.

Analysis of the speech from a rhetorical perspective:-

The Speech Objectives:

My country,' tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing;

land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrims' pride,

from every mountainside let freedom ring!

The key message in the speech is that, as all people are created as equala, it is therefore indispensable to treat all men equally irrespective of caste, creed, colour, race and religion. King speaks out in support or in need of interracial cooperation and social equality, he gives a vision of a future without racial divisions and tries to motivate the listeners to join him in his fight for true freedom for the people and the nation of America. Being a civil rights leader, having dedicated his life for the cause of the people, Martin Luther King is undoubtedly the right person to deliver a speech that has become widely known as a masterpiece of rhetoric and argumentation.

The Audience and the Context:-

'Thank God Almighty, we are free at last"

This speech was delivered on 28th August, 1963 at the Lincoln Memorial, Washington D.C. As such this speech was made for the whole nation of America. It is an appeal to the nation, which is racist in its thinking, to break free from the shackles of ideologies and to be united as one. This speech is a general address to all the sections of the society; and king uses the media also to echo his words so that it is heard by the entire nation.

Speech Content and Structure:-

The Speech Opening:-

The opening of the Speech sets the tone of the message. King has effectively used a hook to draw the audience into the speech. He begins;

'I am happy to join you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of the nation.'

He opens with a reminiscence of an unfulfilled promise thereby evoking the emotions and increasing the intensity of feelings of the people. The opening was really memorable, as the speech lived up to its expectations and that day was the greatest demonstration of freedom in the history of America. King makes sure that he clearly establishes the intent of the presentation and means business right from the word 'go'.

The Speech Body:-

Martin Luther's Speech is a perfect example of a work of a genius in exciting the passions. It is a work of poetry, masterfully delivered and can be called as an improvised sermon, bursting with Biblical imagery and language. Right through the speech, Luther manages to keep the audience glued to his words and in keeping them motivated in pursuit of their dream. King uses vivid imageries and metaphors to create a feeling of euphoria. King alluded to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution as being a 'promissory note' which has come back marked 'insufficient funds'.

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