Please help me to understand the speaker purpose or message in I Have a Dream.I have a Dream I say to  you today, my friends...I still have a dream.It is a dream deeply rooted in the American...

Please help me to understand the speaker purpose or message in I Have a Dream.

I have a Dream

I say to  you today, my friends...I still have a dream.It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

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.

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day, even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day down in Alabama, with its vicious racists,... little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.I have a dream today!

This is our hope. This is the faith that i go back to the South with.

Let freedom ring!

Allow freedom to ring!

From every mountainside

From every peak

From every village and every hamlet

We will be able to join hands and sing

"Free at last, free at last; thank God Almighty, we are free at last."

Expert Answers
Lorraine Caplan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It may be difficult to understand the writer's purpose if you do not understand the context of the speech, so I have included a few links for you about the Civil Rights Era and about King. Between the end of the Civil War and the 1960s, African-Americans were free from slavery, but suffered greatly from discrimination.  So the freedom that King is seeking is freedom from discrimination for African-Americans. His purpose is to persuade America to pass laws that would make discrimination illegal and to persuade Americans to stop discriminating against African-Americans. 

King uses many literary devices in this speech, including repetition, rhythm, alliteration, and metaphor, quite skillfully.  There are a number of motifs in the speech, including light, dark, and fire.  King uses an extended metaphor when he starts talking about the mountains in various states, which represent the heights we must climb to achieve the goal, and there is a great extended metaphor about freedom being a debt owed to African-Americans. The full power of the speech is even more apparent when you can see him and listen to him speaking, so I have included a link for that, too. 

King also uses allusions to America's past, including an opening that reminds us of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address and references to our founding fathers and the Constitution.

This is a speech that is so rich in its content that you could spend days writing a paper about the devices King used to move and persuade his audience. 

I hope this help you. Good luck!

Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The overriding purpose in Dr. King's words was to bring a moral or spiritual dimension to the socio- political challenge of achieving Civil Rights legislation in America.  Dr. King's greatest and most profound legacy in his speech was to make the issue of racial discrimination a moral one, one that possessed a biblical dimension to it.  This speech framed the debate about Civil Rights in spiritual terms, almost so that individuals who opposed it would be in opposition of something that arises out of scripture.  The invocation of religious imagery proves this.  The entire text of the speech brings this to the forefront and in the process Dr. King ended up becoming not only a political leader of the movement, but its spiritual compass, as well.

epollock | Student

The context for this speech was the commemoration of the one hundredth anniversary of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, but King devotes only his first three sentences to actions of “Five score years ago”; the promise of a joyous future, made attainable by Lincoln’s signature on the proclamation, is the subject of King’s discourse. King’s purposes are to urge his followers to continue their actions and not allow the nation to return to “business as usual”; to promote changes that will eventually abolish segregation, discrimination, and prejudice across the country, especially in the South; and to convince his followers that their actions must be immediate and nonviolent.  

King’s speech employs predominantly emotional strategies. His first words echo the Gettysburg Address in tribute to the “great American” whose “momentous decree” the marchers have come to celebrate, and these words set the tone, as well as readers’ expectations, for what is to come. Like Lincoln’s famous speech, King’s is crafted from connotative words like slaves, brotherhood, sacred, exalted, bright day, and warm threshold. His style borrows heavily from the great persuasive traditions of political “stump” speeches and religious sermons; his “campaign promises” are described as his “dream,” and it is King the Baptist minister who exhorts his followers to “continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.” Repetition of key words and phrases is characteristic of oral style, and King uses it extensively, repeating “one hundred years later,” “now,” “go back,” “I have a dream,” “let freedom ring,” and “free at last.” The most prevalent emotional strategy in the speech is King’s use of figurative language. Rich with metaphor, some passages of this speech (such as the second paragraph’s description of contemporary black status) employ metaphors in nearly every sentence. Evocative examples include “beacon light of hope,” “flames of withering injustice,” “manacles of  segregation,” “chains of discrimination,” “palace of justice,” and “valley of despair.” King’s analogy comparing the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence to a “bad check” establishes America’s guilt in withholding “the riches of freedom” and automatically aligns the civil rights movement with the lofty ideal of “justice.”




King’s tone, however, avoids creating enemies or establishing dichotomies. He unites the nation in the pursuit of freedom, using the pronoun “we” and phrases such as “this is our hope . . . our freedom.” King’s speech is best remembered (and therefore probably most effective) for its “I have a dream” paragraphs (10 through 18). These psalm-like passages, whose repetitions and refrain of “I have a dream today,” incited his audience to act in 1963 and continue to inspire readers today.

In his speech, he criticizes the government’s inadequate administration of democracy and confronts the South with its archaic prejudices, citing the governor of Alabama’s obstruction of true justice and directing vitriolic criticism at Mississippi, where blacks were not allowed to vote. King’s primary purpose, however, is to inspire his audience, a goal he admirably achieves in his “I have a dream” and “let freedom ring” sequences, which conclude the discourse.