What is an example of a metaphor in Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s speech "I Have a Dream?"

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litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are many metaphors in this speech, including the dream itself, the mountain, and the bad check.

When King says he has a dream, that dream is a metaphor.  It is not something he was sleeping and thought up.  It is a vision for the future of his country.

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.

In this case, King references the American dream of prosperity and financial independence.  He also alludes to the Declaration of Independence.   He is reminding his audience what it is supposed to mean to be an American.

Another example of a metaphor is King’s “bad check” metaphor.

Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given its colored people a bad check, a check that has come back marked "insufficient funds."

King goes on to say that he refuses to believe that the Bank of Justice has gone bankrupt.  We promised to make everyone in the country free, and did not keep that promise.  He compares it to writing a check, a promissory note, agreeing to pay someone something and then not paying because you have no money.

One of the reasons the speech is so powerful is because of the strong imagery created through the metaphors.  By using this colorful language, King helps us see what he is talking about, and touches an emotional chord.  This helps make the speech persuasive.

kmj23 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

You'll find lots of examples of metaphors in Martin Luther King's speech. First of all, King uses metaphors to describe the impact of the Emancipation Proclamation in the opening paragraph. He compares it, for example, to a "beacon light of hope." He also uses a metaphor to compare the injustice experienced by Negro slaves injustice to "flames." Another metaphor is used to describe their status of slaves. Their "captivity," for instance, is likened to a "long night."

King uses more metaphors when he talks about life for African Americans in the century after the Emancipation Proclamation. He compares poverty, for example, to an island and he likens the "prosperity" of others to a "vast ocean."

By using so many metaphors in his speech, King brings to light the realities of the injustice and hardships faced by the African American population. Moreover, these metaphors are so vivid and eloquent that they forced his audience to listen to and fully absorb his message, therefore contributing to the speech's impact.

Read the study guide:
"I Have a Dream" speech

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