What are examples of repetition and parallelism in the "I Have a Dream" speech?

Martin Luther King uses repetition and parallelism throughout his "I Have a Dream" speech. For example, he repeats phrases like "Now is the time" and "We can not be satisfied," and he uses parallelism when he says to his audience that one day "every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain."

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King's "I Have a Dream Speech" stands as one of the most powerful and eloquent speeches in the English language. One of the reasons why it continues to resonate with people decades after it was given is because of the language and rhetorical strategies King employs to share his vision...

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King's "I Have a Dream Speech" stands as one of the most powerful and eloquent speeches in the English language. One of the reasons why it continues to resonate with people decades after it was given is because of the language and rhetorical strategies King employs to share his vision of a more united America.

Often English teachers ask that you avoid repeating yourself in your own writing so that you avoid a sense of redundancy. However, when employed strategically, repetition can effectively emphasize a point and even provide a cadence to the writing. Consider the repetition in this section where King responds to those who ask when he will be satisfied with the work being done in the civil rights movement:

We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied, as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro's basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating "For Whites Only". We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote.

King intentionally uses the same words to begin several sentences in a row here because he wants to highlight the injustices inherent in the daily lives of Black people in America. Through repetition, he makes a compelling point that there is still much to be dissatisfied about in America and, therefore, much work that still needs to be done.

Parallelism is a technique that uses similar combinations of words and syntax to deliver a single idea. The words aren't the same, but the way they are constructed is very similar. Consider this segment of the speech:

With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

Here, King has shared some of the goals of the civil rights movement by creating a series of successive clauses that all begin with an infinitive verb and end with the word together, indicating the ultimate purpose of his work.

Together, repetition and parallelism create a convincing argument about the need for social changes in America.

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Repetition is a powerful rhetorical device in a speech. It enables the speaker to emphasize key points, and it makes it easier for the audience to remember those key points. Martin Luther King uses many examples of repetition throughout his famous "I Have a Dream" speech.

Early in his speech, Martin Luther King repeats the phrase "Now is the time." He says, for example, "Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy," and "Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation." By repeating this phrase, King impresses upon his audience the need for urgency and action. He wants to discourage his audience from waiting for change to happen and instead wants them to make it happen themselves.

A little later in the speech, King repeats the phrase "We cannot be satisfied." He says, for example, "We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote" and "We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro's basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one." The repetition of this phrase emphasizes the point that Black people should not be satisfied with small concessions and compromises, but instead should keep fighting until they have achieved fundamental and meaningful change.

King also uses parallelism in his speech. This can be seen when he tells his audience that one day "every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain." This is an example of parallelism because in each of the three clauses the same grammatical arrangement is repeated. Each clause comprises a noun phrase ("every valley...every hill and mountain") followed by a verb phrase ("shall be...will be") and finally a future action or consequence ("made plain...made low"). Parallelism like this is really just another form of repetition. Usually with repetition the same words or phrases are repeated, but in parallelism the same grammatical arrangements are repeated. The effects are much the same. With parallelism as with repetition, the speaker is able to emphasize key points. In the above example of parallelism, the speaker emphasizes, in each successive clause, his point, or belief, that there will soon come a time when their struggles are over and their aims achieved.

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Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous "I Have A Dream" speech utilizes numerous persuasive rhetorical techniques, among them parallelism and repetition. One good example of both is towards the end of the speech, beginning with "And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire." The section which follows sees King employing several rhetorical devices to convey his point: he uses a form of parallelism called anaphora (using the same initial set of words in several phrases consecutively), and meanwhile the use of enumeratio (listing, one by one, the various states and parts of the country in which freedom should ring) helps convey the span of what must be changed. King then uses repetition to further reinforce the appeal of this section: "and when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city."

The power of the final two lines of the speech relies heavily upon repetition, as well as another technique known as the "power of three," which orators often use to great effect: "Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, we are free at last."

Of course, King also uses parallelism and repetition throughout the section which gives the speech its name, as King repeats the refrain, "I have a dream" in between other examples of parallelism (anaphora) in which the phrase "I have a dream" precedes an example of that dream. The repetition of the refrain, in conjunction with this parallelism, serves to intensify this section to a climax.

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