Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the foreground with other people standing attentively in the background

"I Have a Dream" Speech

by Martin Luther King Jr.

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Identify the speech of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vP4iY1TtS3s If you identified Dr. King's speech as an informative speech, please illustrate the information Dr. King provides to support your position. Should you have identified Dr. King's speech as a persuasive speech? What evidence does Dr. King provide to support your choosing the persuasive speech genre? 

Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech is a persuasive speech in which he uses ethos, logos, and pathos. Dr. King uses both ethos, appeal to character and ethics, and pathos, appeal to emotion, to reach the audience's motives and attitudes toward social change in America. He also uses logos, appeal to reason, in hopes of inspiring the audience’s behavior on the basis of historical antecedents. Imagery, including metaphors, strongly contributes to conveying his messages.

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In his "I Have a Dream" speech, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered a persuasive speech which effectively employs three elements of classical persuasion: ethos, logos, and pathos. Ethos, which is the appeal to character and ethics, is especially combined with pathos, which is the appeal to emotion. He uses these devices together in his attempt to affect the audience members' motives and attitudes toward what he sees as crucial changes in American society. Dr. King also employs logos, the appeal to reason. He mentions several historical precedents that can serve as the basis for future change, which will include the audience's behavior. The use of metaphors is especially prominent in creating vivid images in the listeners' minds.

Ethos figures into Dr. King's mentions of the lack of progress for African Americans, whom he collectively refers to as "the Negro," since the abolition of slavery. He uses metaphors that identify the conceptual limitations of contemporary society with the physical restraints of slavery with "the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination." He motivates people to desire an end to these practices.

Using pathos in appealing to the listeners' emotions, King creates images that relate to the human body. In this way, he encourages an attitude of empathy within the audience: the people present are encouraged to think concretely of the effects of horrible acts on real people like themselves. Segregation in such places as hotels and schools is not presented as abstract, but associated with the ways that people "are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity."

The strategic use of logos applies to King's mention of specific events, documents, and other speeches from American history. Especially prominent are the Declaration of Independence, the Emancipation Proclamation, and Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. Citing the foundational American document that declares that "all men are created equal," King encourages listeners to think that they can contribute to making this commitment become a reality. Emphasizing the passage of time, he refers to the hundred years since emancipation was proclaimed. These concepts are alive in the present, King insists. "Now is the time" for action, he repeats, aiming to motivate his listeners to participate in the actions so urgently needed to create change.

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