In the speech"I Have a Dream," note King's appeals to pathos, ethos and logos.Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream"

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rmhope eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One of the reasons that the "I Have a Dream" address by Martin Luther King Jr. is so unforgettable is that it contains an excellent balance of Aristotle's three rhetorical appeals: ethos, pathos, and logos.

Ethos is an appeal to authority or credibility. King draws on three authorities for his speech: Abraham Lincoln, the US Declaration of Independence, and the Bible. He begins by referring to Abraham Lincoln and his statue, before which he delivered the address. He alludes to the Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln's declaration that the slaves in the South were free, to establish the rights of blacks in America. He then quotes from the Declaration's assertion of "the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Through multiple references to biblical passages, Christian hymns, and God, King builds his credibility by incorporating commonly held religious beliefs into his speech.

An appeal to logos relies on logic, cause and effect, and facts to support the argument. King's metaphor of the "promissory note" drawn on the American "bank of justice" is a logical appeal. Blacks, especially slaves, did not originally participate in the guarantees of the Constitution and the Declaration, as King notes in this statement: "It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned." Referring to this glaring failure, King uses a logos appeal. Later, when he refers to police brutality and the inability of a black person to secure a room at a hotel, he is using facts to bolster his argument. Because it points out cause and effect, the statement, "In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrong deeds," also uses a logos appeal.

Pathos, or an appeal to emotion, is probably the strongest appeal in King's speech. King's figurative language, elevated diction, and repetition all increase his emotional connection with his audience. The phrases "I have a dream" and "let freedom ring," repeated skillfully and rising to a crescendo carry the listener's emotions along with the speaker. Referring to his own children in the following statement is one of the most powerful pathos appeals of the address:  

I have a dream that my four little 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.

King's skillful use of the three rhetorical appeals of ethos, logos, and pathos make his "I Have a Dream" speech one of the most memorable and effective speeches in American history.

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" is a wonderful example of rhetoric as it contains many devices among which exemplify pathos, ethos, and logos.  Certainly, the very situation and setting of this speech must have evoked emotional feelings in those who stood and listened to this most effective speaker, Dr. King.  For, as King stood before the Lincoln monument, he evoked the history of Lincoln's actions towards effecting the freedom of Negroes by beginning his speech with the words, "Five score years ago," a clear allusion to Lincoln's address at Gettsyburg.  This allusion also establishes the character to Dr. King as he thus aligns himself with Lincoln.  

Here are other examples of the Aristotlian forms of rhetoric:

PATHOS [appeal to emotion]

"We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now."

"Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation..."

Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children."

"...the whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the fundations of our nation..." 

"We cannot be satisfied as the Negro's basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one....as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating 'For Whites Only...."

"Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells.  Some of you have come from areas..battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality."

PATHOS [appeal to character]


"We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline."

"Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred."

LOGOS [appeal to logic]

"With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.  With this faith, we will....."

"And if America is to be a great nation this must become true."

"And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring...we will be able to speed up that day...."

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