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Are there any use of rhetorical devices in the "I Have a Dream" speech by Martin Luther...

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acres | Student, Grade 9 | eNotes Newbie

Posted August 9, 2010 at 12:39 PM via web

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Are there any use of rhetorical devices in the "I Have a Dream" speech by Martin Luther King Jr.?  If there are, how does they work?

I need to do an analysis on this speech fast! It would seriously help for my journal tests for LA! Thanks a lot to all those that helped! :)

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted August 9, 2010 at 3:51 PM (Answer #1)

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There are lots of rhetorical devices in Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech.  King was a gifted writer and speaker; if you listen to this speech you will hear the rhythms of his soaring rhetoric.  I'll remind you of two specific devices. 

1.  Parallelism - a similarity of structure which, in this case, makes the ideas memorable and impactful.

Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.  Let freesom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.  Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado....

There are four others in this list, but you get the idea.  This parallel structure adds weight and musicality--as well as specificity--to his point.

2.  Repetition - the use of repeating words or phrases to add emphasis and weight.  There are a plethora of examples, including:  "one hundred years later," "we can never be satisfied," "go back to," and "I have a dream."  This repetition acts kind of like layers to add depth and breadth to his meaning.

Several other rhetorical devices to look for on your own include metaphor (the reference to an insufficient funds check, among others) and references to other historical documents or speeches (which you should easily be able to identify). 

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted August 9, 2010 at 5:09 PM (Answer #2)

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The previous post was very thorough.  I would just add one more item in that Dr. King was brilliant in so many ways, but he was radical in the direct structure of the speech.  He understood that the speech had to have a resounding magnitude to it, but it also had to be approachable.  Rhetorically, the speech is cut into two parts that mirror one another beautifully.  The first part is a statement of "what is," in terms of racial injustice in America and the inherent problems with racial discrimination in accordance to the ideals put forth in some of the nation's most primary of documents such as the works of Jefferson, Lincoln, and within a Biblical frame of reference.  The second part of the speech is a call to what can be in terms of the notion of transcending a world of prejudice into a transformative vision of the future.  It is in this section of the speech where King helps bring his audience to a sort of "promised land" that can rectify the sins and transgressions featured in the first part of the speech.  Rhetorically, this framework and structure is something that makes it important as not only a speech, but a political document.

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