Martin Luther King Jr.

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Student Question

What literary technique, like repetition, in Martin Luther King Jr.'s Nobel acceptance speech develops the idea of nonviolence?

Quick answer:

In Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, the literary technique that stands out the most is repetition, which is used to develop the central idea of nonviolence. There are several examples in the speech where Dr. King repeats the phrase “I refuse to accept…” to this end.

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Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway on December 10, 1964. He gave his speech during a time of great struggle for the civil rights movement. As such, Dr. King devoted his Nobel Peace Price acceptance speech to reminding the audience and the world that the civil rights movement was far from over as injustices were continuing to take place throughout the Southern US. Despite this, Dr. King was still committed to nonviolence. The use of the literary technique of repetition helps to develop this theme of nonviolence.

There are several instances in the middle of the speech in which Dr. King repeats the introductory phrase “I refuse to accept” before mentioning a particular injustice. For example, he says,

I refuse to accept the idea that man is mere flotsam and jetsam in the river of life, unable to influence the unfolding events which surround him.

This statement attempts to empower the average person to overcome feelings that they have no impact on the world and embrace a fight against injustice that does not rely on violence. Similarly, Dr. King also says,

I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality.

This sentence encourages the listener to never give up on racial justice and civil rights. Finally, a third example of this repetition is when he says

I refuse to accept the cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of thermonuclear destruction.

Here, Dr. King shows the dangers of over-militarization, including the development of nuclear weapons. Overall, his use of repetition helps to drive home his points about continuing the nonviolent civil rights movement.

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