Analysis of Dr. Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream Speech
Nhat Nguyen Patrick Clayton Cantrell English 1010-051 23 October, 2012 Analysis of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. ’s “I Have a Dream” Speech Amidst the bigotry and racial violence of the Civil Rights Movement, there stood a shining example of brotherhood, unity, and an undying thirst for equality. In what was known as the March of Washington, an estimated total of 200,000 people of all races—observers estimated that 75–80% of the marchers were black and the rest were white and non-black minorities—took to the streets of Washington D.
C. on August 28, 1963 in an effort to raise awareness of the ongoing racial injustice in the work field and in everyday life. It was on this momentous day that the great Martin Luther King Jr. , one of the most powerful and influential voices of the Civil Rights Movement, gave one of history’s most memorable speeches. His speech, later came to be known as the “I Have a Dream” speech, served to bring into light the injustice experienced daily by the African American population of the United States.
In his famous speech, King outlined the racial discrimination and social inequalities that inhabit the great country whose creed explicitly states “all men are created equal. ” This constituted the main purpose of his speech: to encourage and empower the attendees and those at home to challenge the widespread discrimination and the status quo of the time. Bigotry had a stranglehold on all aspects of life during the Civil Rights era. From childhood, racial themes and motifs were embedded into the very being of the child. A plethora of consequences arose from this.
Whites usually aged into adulthood with the belief that racial superiority belonged to them because of the color of their skin. Most African Americans, on the other hand, grew up with beliefs very much contradictory to those of their white counterparts. Many aged with the preconceived notion that racial inferiority accompanied being black. Martin Luther King, in his speech, endeavored to end this narrow-minded approach to race by encouraging his audience to rise above what they once accepted as a social norm and be the light that would lead that generation out of blind hatred for their fellow an. He preached brotherhood and equality and electrified the crowd when he demanded the immediate realization of the “promises of democracy” (King). He galvanized the crowd to rebel from the dark, secluded “valley of segregation” and enter into the “sunlit path of racial justice” (King). He closed this portion of his speech by once again reiterating the importance of immediate action. He called for justice for all of mankind, be they black, white, or any other race.
Besides the obvious fact that he was speaking to the audience present, King’s speech was meant for a much broader audience. Specifically, his speech was targeted at those who desired to continue the economic and social oppression of African Americans. This could clearly be seen when King states, “And those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual” (King). In this sentence, King concentrated his words against “those. “Those” are the people who continued to disregard African Americans as equals. King wanted to make it known that he and millions alike would not quit until justice was dealt and democracy rang through the land. In another explicit example, King talks directly to “those” again. “There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, ‘When will you be satisfied? ’” (King). He goes on to answer this question by saying that he and other civil rights activists will never be satisfied so long as injustice and discrimination remain a synonymous part of the United States’ culture.
He ensured the people whose intentions were to physically, mentally, and economically deter African Americans that America will not experience rest or tranquility until all black men, women, and children are granted their rights as citizens. The speech was as much a message to those oppressed as it was to the oppressors. Martin Luther King’s speech was well formatted with respect to harmony, with each prior point flowing harmoniously into the next. It was organized into two halves.
The first half portrayed American society as a cesspool of intolerance, racism, and close-mindedness, and it also revealed the incongruence between the themes of the American Dream and the suffering of African Americans. In the first half of the speech, King called for action to alleviate these overriding themes in American society. In his “now is the time” paragraph, King emphasized to the audience that the time for action is now and rejected gradualism. In his “we can never be satisfied” paragraph, he set the conditions that must be met before he and others like him can rest.
The second half of the speech depicted the dream of a fairer, more perfect union, free from the shackles of segregation and racial discord. In the most memorable part of the speech, Martin Luther King famously stopped reading from his written speech and began to speak earnestly of his “dream” concerning the future of America. In the part of the speech that became its namesake, King repeatedly bellows the phrase, “I have a dream” (King). In a brief 3-minute period, King gave one of history’s most beautiful pieces of rhetoric, summoning boisterous cheers from the masses of people.
King concluded his masterpiece by articulating to the crowd his vision of a democratic America, emancipated from the chains of prejudice. His dream was that individuals from all corners of society—different in color, culture, and beliefs—could one day gather together in unity with respect for one another. His comprehensive use of metaphors, imagery, and repetition served to persuade the audience to remain optimistic and faithful in the face of prejudice and despair. He appealed greatly to the crowd’s sense emotion and logic.
He also masterfully used anaphora and allusions on several occasions in his moving speech. From under the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial, King fittingly began his speech alluding to Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg Address. He started by saying “five score years ago” (King). This assisted in setting the mood for the rest of the speech and was particularly poignant since King was speaking from the steps on the Lincoln Memorial. King also alluded to the Declaration of Independence when speaking of “the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. This allusion powerfully reiterated America’s promise to all her people. There are several allusions to Biblical passages in the speech. Perhaps one of the most notable was when King warned the oppressors of civil rights that he and everyone who challenged discrimination will never surrender until “justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream” (King). This was reference to Amos 5:24. It appealed impressively to the audience’s emotions, stirring up shouts of “hallelujah” within the crowd. Metaphors were used throughout the speech to help emphasize and sometimes exaggerate the ppression experienced by the African American population during that era. King frequently compared discrimination to a desolate valley and the path to racial justice as a “sunlit” one. He would often describe oppression as a searing heat to intensify the pain that it caused. He described African Americans’ poor economic position as a “lonely island of prosperity in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity” (King). This helped accentuate the situation that African Americans were in. King incorporated anaphora and repetition in his speech in order to stress the importance of key themes.
One of the lesser known anaphora used was King’s repetition of “one hundred years later” (King). Here, King referred to the fact that 100 years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, his people are still hampered by the weight of inequality. He repeated the phrase “now is the time” (King) in an attempt to inspire the audience to act immediately and to demand change that instance. The most famous and most often cited anaphora used was the repetition of the phrase “I have a dream” (King) In that passage King revealed his vision of a better tomorrow for America.
He stated that even though he faces difficulties, he still maintained that dream. This helped to strengthen this portion of his speech tremendously. On August 28, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave one of history’s most beautifully executed pieces of rhetoric. The language incorporated in the speech helped convey King’s message to America: challenge discrimination and the status quo and strive for an equal society. This will live on as one of King’s greatest contributions to the advancement of civil rights. Today, it remains a significant part of King’s legacy.