9 September 2013
Rhetorical Analysis of the “Letter from Birmingham Jail”
The “Letter from Birmingham Jail” was written April 16, 1963 by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. King was arrested for “parading without a permit” after being asked by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to protest in Birmingham, Alabama. He wrote this letter in response to the criticisms he received from a group of eight clergymen. Using logos, pathos and ethos Dr. King is able to convey his message unto the readers in a rather persuasive way.
Using logos Dr. King is able to strengthen his arguments as well as establish himself as a well-educated man. He asks the question, “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others” (King 3)? This gave him a good opening to appeal to the reader’s logic. Dr. King then follows up his question by answering that “there are two types of laws: just and unjust” (3). Throughout the letter he does give a very good definition of “just and unjust” laws. As Dr. King said, “A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law” (3). By writing about “just and unjust” laws, Dr. King was able to imply that segregation along with discrimination against Negros was legal but unjust and therefore immoral. And by referring to Jesus, Amos, Paul, Martin Luther, and John Bunyan as
“extremists” motivated by love, goodness and the truth (6), much like himself, he was able to strengthen his argument by clarifying the meaning of being an “extremist”.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. uses pathos to appeal to the emotions of the readers. He starts off at the beginning of the letter when comparing himself to the Apostle Paul and stating, “so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home town” (1). It seems to me that much of his argument is aimed at touching the emotions of the readers. With Statements like, “Oppressed people cannot...