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Last Updated on November 4, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1626

King’s Use of Ethos, Pathos, and Logos: Martin Luther King, Jr.’s background as a Baptist minister gave him experience in crafting powerful orations that moved his audience. In “I Have a Dream,” King employs ethos, pathos, and logos—the three rhetorical modes delineated by Aristotle in his volume Rhetoric. Ethos refers to the credibility of the speaker. Pathos refers to the emotions of the audience. Logos refers to the acuity of the argument itself.

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  • For discussion: Speakers often establish ethos by drawing attention to their qualifications, reputation, and knowledge. Does King try to establish his credibility in the speech? If so, how?
  • For discussion: What is King’s central argument? Examine the central argument over the course of the speech. What conclusion does King reach, and what premises form its foundation? 
  • For discussion: How does King appeal to the emotions of his audience? Which emotions does he draw upon to impress his point?

King’s Evocation of National Pride: Throughout his speech, King refers to monumental figures and documents from American history. He claims that equality for all people is necessary “if America is to be a great nation” in the image set forth by its founders. In his demand for equality, King asks for the most American of values, as described in the Declaration of Independence: “the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” In doing so, King situates the civil rights movement as a distinctly American one and draws on the national pride of his audience.

  • For discussion: King says that his dream is “deeply rooted in the American Dream.” How would you define the American dream? Compare your definition of the American dream to King’s dream. What are the similarities and/or differences between the two?
  • For discussion: King and other civil rights activists protested laws that they perceived to be unjust. In some cases, they intentionally broke laws to prove their points, often ending up in jail. In fact, King was imprisoned for protesting only a few months prior to delivering “I Have a Dream.” How does King distinguish between law and justice? How does he envision the path to a better nation and better laws? 
  • For discussion: King directly addresses black Americans in his speech, encouraging them to sustain their faith in the dream of equality, to work alongside white Americans to achieve this goal, and to continue along the path of nonviolent resistance. How does King frame the contributions of white Americans participating in the civil rights movement? How does King address the difficulties that Americans of color face in trusting white Americans?

Turning Dreams into Reality: King’s “I Have a Dream” speech was a rallying cry for the civil rights movement. The year after its delivery, President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which banned racial segregation in workplaces, schools, and all public facilities and services. The act also banned unequal voter-registration restrictions, often used in the South to exclude black voters from participation. By considering King’s speech in the context of the civil rights movement and even contemporary culture, students will gain a better understanding of its significance. (Note: These discussion questions rely on extratextual and historical materials.)

  • For discussion: The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was considered a success for the civil rights movement. Compare the provisions of the act to King’s dream. To what extent does the Civil Rights Act of 1964 align with King’s dream? Where does it diverge?
  • For discussion: King delivered this speech at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. How is economic opportunity tied to freedom? Why might some people wish to limit economic opportunity for others?
  • For discussion: King addresses the issue...

(The entire section contains 1626 words.)

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