Martin Luther King, Jr. was a leader of the movement fighting for the African-American rights. He was also an accomplished orator. In 1963, Luther delivered one of his most famous speeches at the Lincoln Memorial, Washington D.C. The I Have a Dream Speech did not gain fame in vain.
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It caught the attention of the world not because it was about African-American rights. It went down in history as one of the best speeches ever delivered. It did not only make the world recognize that all mankind is equal but also drew the attention of everyone to its quality of content (Ralph 35). After listening to the speech, I go straight to analyze its effectiveness without dwelling on the main content.
Watching a video of the speech, I made several observations which include the following facts. The setting is historical, and the audience is eager and agitated and composed of both blacks and whites, though the blacks are prevailing in number. The success of the speech of Dr. King can be attributed to the use of various literary techniques. They are used in the speech to capture the attention of the audience.
Repetition is used throughout the speech to put an emphasis on the main idea of the message. The repetition is presented in the form of anaphora. Anaphora is a term used to show that the words are repeated at the beginning of adjacent clauses. The phrase “I have a dream” is repeated eight times. Alliteration is another stylistic device that is used in the speech.
It refers to the repetition of consonant sounds in the words in a sentences; for example, we can trace the use of this technique in the following instances, “In a sense we have come to our nation’s capital to cash a check” and “We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no…”.
The repetition and the emphasis of the letter “c” in the first sentence and letter “n” in the second excites the audience because of the musicality it brings out when it is uttered. Luther also uses allusion in his speech. He cites two bookends to achieve this effect. One of them is an old Negro Spiritual, “free at last! free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last”.
The other alludes are made to the Gettysburg Address made by an American President in the words, “Five score years ago…”. Assonance refers to the repetition of vowel sounds. The next example presents the use of assonance in the words. “We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline”. Alliteration and assonance are also used in classical poetry. The two devices bring musicality to the speech which Luther’s audience enjoys.
Hyperbole is used by Luther to create some sort of exaggeration that stretches the imagination of his audience concerning the following part of the speech, “And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing”.
With the help of the hyperbole mentioned, Luther makes his audience believe that opposing forces can unite to bring freedom to the whole world.
The use of parallelism can be seen in the words “go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day”. This brings consistency of thought by use of similar phrases and clauses.
In conclusion, I am persuaded to acknowledge the value that literary techniques bring to the speech (Ralph 34). They are strategically employed by Luther to enhance the delivery and reception of his message not only to America but also to the rest of the world.
Ralph, James. Northern Protest: Martin Luther King, Jr., Chicago and the Civil Rights Movement. Harvard: Harvard University Press, 1993. Print.