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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What aesthetic factors made the "I Have a Dream" speech eloquent?

Quick answer:

Many aesthetic factors make this speech eloquent and tightly woven, including King’s use of vivid imagery, sensory contrast, rhythm, and crescendo.

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Martin Luther King Jr. used many aesthetic factors to ensure an eloquent, tightly woven speech at the March on Washington. When we use the term “aesthetic factors” to talk about written or spoken word, we are discussing how writers use things like style, feeling, and imagery to shape the experience of engaging with their work. For instance, consider some of the vivid images MLK uses in his “I Have a Dream” speech. When he describes what the Emancipation Proclamation was like for Black people in the United States he says:

This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.

The images in this line are powerful and balanced. Note how King is focusing on the sharp contrast between light and dark and day and night. The use of these strong contrasting images helps listeners visualize the social struggle he is discussing and understand what it would mean if his dream was realized.

King also works to make his audience feel the change he dreams about. Recall how he describes Mississippi as “a state sweltering with the heat of injustice” and “sweltering with the heat of oppression.” The repetition of the words “sweltering” and “heat” helps emphasize the pain of racial oppression for the audience. He then says he dreams that the state “will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.” The word “oasis” brings a sense of cool relief to the heat he described in the previous line and makes the audience feel how soothing freedom would be.

King's speech also has some musical qualities that make listening to it an immersive, powerful experience. For example, consider how the repetition of the phrase “let freedom ring” creates an engaging rhythm. Also, if you listen to the audio of his speech, you can hear him crescendo (get louder) to build up to key points, like from the first time he says “I have a dream” to when he talks about his four children and says, “I have a dream today.” All of these techniques immerse King's audience in his ideas and ensure an eloquent, focused speech.

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