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

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

Parallelism is a literary and rhetorical technique in which a writer or speaker repeats and balances elements of grammar and meaning across sentences. Martin Luther King Jr. packs his “I Have a Dream” speech with parallel elements, which serve as points of emphasis, keys for memory, and spurs to his audience’s emotions. Let’s look at a few examples.

In King’s third paragraph, he repeats the phrase “one hundred years later” four times, each of which is followed by a statement about how African Americans are not yet free and are still oppressed. A few paragraphs later, he does something similar with the phrase “now is the time,” using it to create parallel sentences that express his desire for justice. Later, he parallels two short sentences, “We cannot walk alone” and “We cannot turn back.” These two bookend a line about how King wants people to walk: together and straight ahead. The effect of such parallelism is powerful and memorable.

Just one paragraph later, King again closely parallels a phrase about never being satisfied with the way things stand until justice is served. He then tells his audience “go back,” using the phrase several times, each followed by a different state or situation. They are to “go back” and work for change. He then enters into the most famous part of his speech as he repeats “I have a dream” nine times. Each of these parallel phrases introduces a statement about how this nation should be and hopefully will be one day. Again, the parallelism makes this part of the speech especially rhetorically strong and inspiring.

King doesn’t end there, though. He soon introduces more parallel sentences using the phrases “with this faith” and “let freedom ring.” In so doing, he creates a chorus of sorts that his audience is stimulated to recite with him, allowing the words to sink deeply into their hearts and minds. Indeed, King’s use of parallelism is one of the reasons why his speech stands as one of the finest of all times.

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

Parallelism means repeating the same grammatical structure or word choice within a sentence or in consecutive sentences. It creates, like rhyme or alliteration, a pleasing sense of rhythm.

An example of parallelism in King's "I Have a Speech" occurs when he states that freedom from slavery

came as a great beacon light of hope

and then states that it

came as a joyous daybreak.

As we can see, King repeats the words "came as a" and then follows them with an image of light.

Another example of parallelism comes in paragraph five, in the repetition of the words "we refuse to believe" at the start of two consecutive sentences. In the next paragraph, King repeats "now is the time" three times to bring emphasis to this concept.

The most forceful use of parallelism occurs at the end of the speech, in the multiple repetitions of "I have a dream" and "let freedom ring." These statements bring the speech to a crescendo and lend a hypnotic, spell-binding quality to King's utterances as he rises to his climax. The words "let freedom ring" mimic the repeating ringing of a bell. At this point, King is using pure rhetoric, invoking the long-standing American cultural motif of freedom to create strong positive feelings for the civil rights cause in his audience.

King's goal is to bring people together in a sense of unity, purpose, and good feeling, so he plays openly to their emotions as the speech comes to a stirring end.

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

Parallelism involves using similar structures for two or more parts of a sentence or sentences to create a comparison or pattern. One example in the "I Have a Dream Speech" is the four sentences that begin "one hundred years later" in the third paragraph to discuss all the ways in which African-Americans are still not free. Within one of these sentences that reads "One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination," King also uses parallelism. The phrases "manacles of segregation" and "chains of discrimination" are in parallel form, as they are three-word phrases with a noun, the word "of," and another noun.

Later, in the sixth paragraph, King begins several sentences with the parallel phrasing "now is the time to..." to speak about the agenda of the Civil Rights movement to end injustice and segregation. After he states "we can never turn back" later in the speech, he uses parallel constructions for several sentences that begin "We can never be satisfied as long as..." These sentences not only use repetition, but they also use parallel constructions, as the parts of the sentence that follow this phrase are all written in the present tense about an injustice that is currently occurring in the nation. Later, King ends the speech with several parallel sentences that begin famously with "I have a dream that..." These sentences also use repetition and are all written with the same structure, as they contain the future tense and use of words such as "will," "will be," or "shall" to express a hope for something that will happen in the near future. 

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

There are a number of examples of parallelism in Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream…” speech. When examining a piece of literature for parallelism one looks for words or phrases that contain a similar arrangement or word pattern. These literary devices emphasize the structure and importance of the ideas presented.

In the first paragraph of the speech, Dr. King begins with the phrase “Five score years ago.” He then includes the phrase “one hundred years later” followed by the plight of the “Negros” as he continues the paragraph. Many of the sentences begin with this phrase thus drawing the reader and listener to understand that he is emphasizing the fact that even one hundred years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation living conditions for African Americans were still not based in equality and tolerance.

As the speech moves on he speaks of the “promissory note” that the Founding Fathers signed ensuring rights for all Americans. He parallels those words along with the words “check” and “insufficient funds” keeping with the monetary references.

Another example includes the phrases “we will not be satisfied” and “we will never be satisfied.” He uses those phrases to emphasize that the fight for Civil Rights will continue until acceptable conditions are established.

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