The famous “I Have a Dream” speech delivered by Martin Luther King, Jr. at the historic March in Washington in August 1963 effectively urged the US government to take actions and to finally set up equality between the black and white people in America. Although there were many factors that contributed to the success of the speech, it was primarily King’s masterly use of different rhetorical instruments that encouraged Kennedy and his team to take further steps towards racial equality. King effectively utilizes numerous linguistic devices, such as metaphors, anaphoras, allusions, and provides an abundance of specific examples in his address and this all makes the speech more convincing and memorable.
But before we look at these rhetorical devices employed in the speech in more detail, a brief summary of the discourse may be helpful. It can be divided into two parts. In the first part King depicts the racial injustice in America and calls for action using several themed paragraphs (e.g. “Now is the time to…” and “We can never (cannot) be satisfied…”). The second half conveys King’s hope for a better future where there will be equality between the citizens of America regardless to the color of their skin. This part contains the thesis of the speech: “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”“ The address finishes with an emotionally rich and competently improvised paragraph themed around freedom.
As you read the text, you come up with hundreds of metaphors. Found almost in every line, they adorn the speech and make it more effective. Most of those metaphors are used to highlight the contrast between two abstract concepts. For example, King invokes the contrast between quick sands and solid rock to distinguish racial injustice from brotherhood: “Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.” However, there is also a metaphor in the address used to illustrate a whole process rather than to contrast two concepts. King uses phrases like “cash a check”, “promissory note”, “insufficient funds”, “bank of justice”, etc. to develop this metaphor throughout two paragraphs.
“In a sense we have come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds."