Style Analysis

1897 words - 8 pages

In 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. was arrested due to his protests in Birmingham, Alabama. Before his demonstration, the city had issued an anti-protest injunction that King had outright ignored. While in prison, King decided to reply to religious leaders in Alabama who had begun to doubt him as an effective leader. In “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” King uses several rhetorical devices to argue that his form of civil disobedience is the most effective manner, and that these critical clergymen should support him in his endeavor.
King begins his letter by giving a bit of background information toward the reason he has found himself in jail and hooks his audience into reading further. He builds his ethos when he states that he himself is a leader of a religious organization in Atlanta, Georgia. This builds his credibility because his audience is also a leader, or at least a member, of a church somewhere in the nation. By building his credibility, King is able to relate to his audience and build a solid foundation for his argument. He uses repetition to reiterate his reason for protest when he states, “So I…am here because I was invited here. I am here because I have organizational ties here…I am in Birmingham because injustice is here.” In this line, King is repeating that he is in Birmingham for several reasons. Repetition is used to emphasize the fact that he was in the city for valid reasons, not simply to protest. This helps to begin his argument and oppose the clergymen’s claims. He alludes to the Bible when he compares his protests to the time when “the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco-Roman world.” This allusion appeals to his audience because they are religious leaders. He is able to appeal to them by mentioning parts of the Bible and showing that he, in fact, has not done anything wrong. This builds his argument because it shows that he is doing just as Paul and other Apostles had done in the past: carry the word of a greater being and demand equality.
King then directly addresses the statements made by the clergymen and his opinions toward it. He uses juxtaposition to compare their problem with the African-Americans’ problems when he states, “It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city’s white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative.” In this like, King is stating that demonstrations are not necessarily a good thing, but the fact that the African Americans have been forced to resort to it because of white people is even worse. The use of juxtaposition in this line provides a direct contrast of the two problems and shows that it was white people who caused this to happen, and this category includes the clergy. He uses antithesis when he states that Americans must “create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to...

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