Critical compromises and King uses this fact
Critical Analysis of Martin Luther King JR.s Letter from the Birmingham JailMartin Luther King, JR. wrote “Letter from Birmingham Jail” at the height of the nonviolent protest movement in the United States. The letter captures King’s ability to lead through the use of language.
throughout the latter half of the 1950s and most of the 60s, King demonstrated his ability to employ classic rhetorical strategies in his speeches and writings. While King uses a variety of these tactics in his Birmingham letter, his ethos and ethical views anchor his uncertain readers, enabling them to take a stand against unfounded persecution.Ethos is exceedingly effective when writings reflect that the author is a person of sound sense, high moral character and benevolence. When an authors writings reflect these three things, the reader develops an intimate trust and respect for him/her.
Within the first three paragraphs of Kings letter, he establishes these things about himself. In paragraph three King says, More basically, I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. This statement is powerful in a ethical sense and it affects the reader dramatically. Most importantly, this statement establishes that King is an ethical person of the highest caliber willing to sacrifice his own personal freedoms in the defense of justice and liberty.
King further demonstrates his sound sense, high moral character and benevolence when he stresses that time and time again, he and his constituents have readily consented to compromises and King uses this fact and a variety of other tactics to establish ethical credibility. John Henry Newman says that, A skilled writer has the ability, in each particular case, to see the available means of persuasion. King has a strategic method for using ethics and credibility to persuade his readers at every point in his letter.
At times King rationalizes and supports his own opinions with the statements of famous heroes. In paragraph sixteen King says, An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. King goes on to support this statement by quoting St.
Thomas Aquinas, who says that, An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Later in the letter, King chooses to rationalize his ethical views by comparing his actions to those of Jesus Christ, Amos, John Bunyon and Paul the apostle. Kings method of comparing his action to those of biblical figures gives him undeniable credibility to anyone who claims to believe in Christianity. This method is extremely effective because it gives the reader limited foresight into the future of the civil rights movement. This is possible because King established that his plight and those of Paul, Jesus and Amos are in effect the same, and must end in freedom for the oppressed and persecuted.Nevertheless, King does not rely on these arguments alone. He creates an ethical paradox in the hearts of his readers by saying We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.
King says this to play on the ethical values of his readers. His objective is simple, he wants his readers to remember what he says, so they can begin to take a stand for justice. King also effectively eliminates any uncertainty surrounding how he views those who stand for nothing. This coupled with the extreme guilt placed in the hearts of Kings readers, (because of his previous statement) moves them to action.
The primary factor for Kings successful call to action, is due to his ability to establish credibility by making powerful statements when readers hang on his every word. When King says Civil disobedience was practiced superbly by early Christians, who were willing to face hungry lions or the excruciating pain of the chopping blocks rather then submit to certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire, he is telling every reader that unless something changes, more extremes will be reached. When readers realize this, the entire Civil Rights Movement gains credibility.Issues of morality proved to be an essential part in the struggle for civil rights in the mid 1900s. Martin Luther King JR.
gave the Civil Rights Movement presence by calling ethical values into the playing field. Through his unique use of ethos King was able to persuade the most belligerent opponent. Never before have I read so long a letter, and managed to stay interested the entire way through. Martin Luther King JR.s letter is truly emblematic of a magnificent piece of rhetorical writing because he effectively persuades his readers into adopting his ethical values for the Bibliography: