What strategies did Martin Luther King Jr. use to convey his ideas in "Letter From Birmingham Jail"?

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King employs multiple strategies to communicate his argument in "Letter from Birmingham Jail." However, one particular approach stands out overall because it allows him to fluctuate his tone, reach multiple audiences, and earn the reader's sympathy with personal anecdote and concrete detail. King masterfully exploits the "letter form" to maximize...

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King employs multiple strategies to communicate his argument in "Letter from Birmingham Jail." However, one particular approach stands out overall because it allows him to fluctuate his tone, reach multiple audiences, and earn the reader's sympathy with personal anecdote and concrete detail. King masterfully exploits the "letter form" to maximize his goals.

Letters are meant to be personal. They stress the immediate needs of the speaker and also emphasize the location of sender and recipient. They also operate under the pretense of intimacy. King writes the letter as if it is really correspondence between a group of clergymen though he knows full well it will reach an audience larger than that.

The letter form reminds us that he is in jail while dispelling the stereotype of the uneducated black man. He makes countless references to American history and quotes directly from the Bible, as well as to the work of many philosophers. It tempts the reader to ask, how can a man this astute be languishing in a jail cell for parading without a permit?

Additionally, the letter form allows for tangents and everyday concrete details, as well as encourages a polite and formal tone. One of the most moving passages in this piece involves King's daughter who tears up because she can't go to the water park she has seen on TV:

When you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year old daughter why she can't go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children[...].

This deviation from his argument which is teeming with pathos is only possible given our assumptions about the letter form. Such a tangent would not be effective in an essay or manifesto.

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Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "Letter from Birmingham Jail" is a masterpiece containing rhetorical strategies almost too numerous to identify and analyze.  Here are just four:

Early in the letter, King uses refutation when he addresses being called an "outside agitator" by the Birmingham authorities.  King asserts that "anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds."  With regard to oppression based on race, King does not see geographic boundaries in the United States.

King also uses concession when he asks the rhetorical question, "Isn't negotiation a better path?" This is something his opponents might ask, and he then answers, "You are quite right in calling for negotiation." King emphasizes that he and his supporters prefer nonviolence in addressing the institutionalized racism that plagues the country.

King uses a metaphor to contrast the social and political backwardness of the United States with the progressiveness of other nations when he writes "the nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward gaining political independence, but we still creep at horse and buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter." This is also an appeal to pathos; the United States looks pathetic in its inability to recognize its citizens' essential humanity.

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