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Martin Luther King Jr. Versus Henry David Thoreau

1238 words - 5 pages

Martin Luther King Jr. versus Henry David Thoreau
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There are times throughout the history of the United States when its citizens have felt the need to revolt against the government. Two such cases occurred during the time of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Henry David Thoreau. Both men courageously confronted the mighty us government; both spent time in jail as a result of their defiant actions; both men stood for a belief in a better future, and both presented their dreams through non-violent protest and civil disobedience. The similarities in their course of action are undeniable, but each man used different terms on which they based their arguments. Martin Luther King Junior's appeal through the human conscience, and Henry Thoreau's excellent use of patriotism, present similar issues in very dissimilar ways.

King's letter, written while in jail, is in direct response to a letter written by a group of "fellow clergymen". His letter clearly and effectively responds to each of the five examples given by the clergymen. He opens his letter by recognizing that he believes their complaints to be "sincere" and of "genuine goodwill". The respect given to these men in the first few sentences immediately present King as a man of equal standards and beliefs. It also has a subtle and maybe subconscious affect as he asks for the same respect in return. The letter is noticeably divided into 6 major components. The first five sections are in direct response to the letter from the clergymen, and the last is his final plea for justice. He opens each section by conceding to the clergymen, and uses direct quotes from their letter to support is argument. Following this opening, he uses a variety of strategies to drill his point. "Broken promises" and the "dark depths of prejudice" portray segregation as the ultimate "evil" he believes it to be. He pleads for protection from the "[hateful] mothers in New Orleans…[which] can be seen on television screaming 'nigger, nigger, nigger'." This is obviously is emotional appeal, of which the majority of his essay is comprised. Later he criticizes the white moderates for their lack of courage and apparent loss of concern for the atrocities being committed in their own cities. This is only one of the many noticeable tone shifts and different persuasive techniques used in his essay. His logical arguments come directly from examples in our history books and are used to convince the clergymen of their own acts of rebellion. Being all of a Christian faith, this is especially effective because of its direct correlation of the teachings of Jesus Christ:

"So when [the crowd] continued asking him, [Jesus] lifted up himself and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her… And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus...

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