How can literary theories be applied to Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" address?

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

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I think that literary theories can be applied to any work.  The discussion of different and divergent literary theories helps to bring out different ideas and parts of the work in question.  This same process can be done with Dr. King's speech.  If one takes a particular literary theory, different parts of the text end up coming alive in order to see which parts could correspond with the theory.  The result is that literary theory analysis forces the reader to have a better grasp of the text because more of it is analyzed and critiqued.  For example, if we applied Bloom's aesthetic literary theory to King's speech, we find some interesting elements that emerge.  When Bloom argues that there is a fundamental attempt to re-describe the modern world in accordance with that which has already been stated, King's speech fits this aesthetic.  King pulls from Biblical scripture as well as Jeffersonian Enlightenment to make the case that the struggle for Civil Rights is not a new one, but rather a current chapter of an ancient aesthetic of individuals seeking to empower themselves against social and political barriers that are intrinsically wrong.  When Bloom asserts that, the modern writer is born too late, King willingly accepts this critique for he is not trying to invent Civil Rights for people of color in the 1960s.   King understands that the best approach for gaining such rights is to re-describe it in paradigms that White society already understands.  In Bloom's aesthetic regarding "anxiety of influence," one gains a greater appreciation for the power and majesty of King's speech.  This displays how literary theories can be both applicable and help to bring out more of a specific text.

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