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“A Letter from Birmingham Jail” A Work of Rhetorical Genius
Rhetorical Situation Purpose Refute the accusation that he is an “outsider” meddling in local affairs in Birmingham Speaker Audience Subject President of the SCLC; asked to come from Atlanta to lead non-violent protest; Baptist minister King led several non- violent protests; Public statement written while King was in jail for non- violently protesting Racial injustice in Birmingham and U.S. in general Specifically: 8 Alabama clergymen who criticized his presence and strategies in Birmingham and published letter in newspaper
Argument: “I am not an outsider” Main point 1: (Paragraph 2) –He was invited because he is the president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Atlanta and the SCLC organization in Birmingham asked him to help lead a “nonviolent direct-action program” in Birmingham if the continued racial injustice made it necessary.
Argument: “I am not an outsider” Main point 2: (Paragraph 3) –He is in Birmingham because “injustice is here” and he, like other New Testament Christians spreading the Gospel, is “compelled to carry the gospel of freedom,” even if it isn’t in Atlanta.
Argument: “I am not an outsider” Main point 3: (Paragraph 4) –All communities are connected and what happens in one will affect another so no one in the United States should ever be considered an outsider.
How does he use rhetorical appeals to further his argument? Appeal to Ethos King establishes himself as an extremely credible leader by providing evidence that he is the president of the SCLC, “an organization operating in every southern state and is affiliated with the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights King includes these facts in order to clearly present himself as a credible, knowledgeable figure who cares about equal rights for all people. This appeal to ethos refutes the assertion that he is an unqualified interloper.
Appeal to Logos King appeals to logic when he says that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” because we are a country of united states, so what happens in one state will affect the entire nation. King uses this appeal to logos to try to convince his audience that they are being ridiculous to think that just because he is not from Birmingham that he shouldn’t be concerned with the systematic racism affecting the people there. Injustice is an important issue and just because it does not appear to be directly affecting someone, does not mean it will not indirectly affect them in the future. How does he use rhetorical appeals to further his argument?
How do rhetorical strategies further his argument? Biblical/Historical Allusion King compares himself to Jesus' apostle Paul of the New Testament who traveled far and wide to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Like Paul, King came to Birmingham to spread freedom. King alludes to the apostle Paul because his target audience (8 men who wrote the initial letter) were Christian religious leaders who would not only have been familiar with Paul’s quest to spread the Gospel of Jesus, but viewed his work as extremely important. By comparing himself with Paul, King makes it very difficult for the clergymen to continue to say that he should not have come to Birmingham to help.
How do rhetorical strategies further his argument? Repetition of the word “here” King uses the repetition of the single word “here” in reference to his presence in Birmingham five different times in just these three paragraphs. While not a remarkable or powerful word, the mere repetition of it emphasizes that regardless of the wishes of the eight clergymen who resent his presence, the truth of the matter is that he is currently in Birmingham and is not leaving.
How do rhetorical strategies further his argument? Figurative Language: Metaphor When describing that the injustice in Birmingham indirectly affects all Americans everywhere, King writes, “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.” King uses the metaphor of a “single garment of destiny” to provide his audience with a regal image of all American’s destiny or future intertwined together like a rich cloth. This positive image offers a break from King’s respectful defiance and gives a unified mood of togetherness.
Overall Evaluation King presents a convincing argument that he is not an outsider in Birmingham because he mentions reasons that the eight clergymen would have trouble refuting. Since they are religious leaders, they are supposed to follow the teaching of “Love thy neighbor”. By appealing to establishing his credibility as a leader, appealing to logic, alluding to the Bible, using repetition to emphasize his unchanging, current presence, and concluding his argument with a beautiful metaphor conveying the inevitable and important interconnectedness of humanity in order to express the need for change, King brilliantly crafts a strong argument that was extremely difficult to refute.
Symbolic Representation King expresses that humanity and all citizens of the United States are connected and so there is no way he can ignore the racial injustice that is occurring in Birmingham. This is also true of damages to the Earth. Although pollution may not be affecting us directly or may not be anywhere we live, we should not ignore it because eventually it will affect us.