Critique Essay: I Have A Dream

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In a country where “coloured people” were banished to certain part of the state, were mistreated at every occasion and looked down upon, a man came as a ray of light to take the black Americans out of their misery. Dr Martin Luther king, a social activist and a Baptist minister, struggled tirelessly during the 1960s to elevate the status of the African Americans through the civil rights movement in the United States.

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During this time, he gave a speech during Washington March in 1963 that provoked a change in the minds and hearts of the people and inspired a nation into action with his words. In his speech “I have a Dream”, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. effectively makes use of visual and metaphorical imagery, alliteration and empathetic repetitions as well as specific examples and religious rhetoric, to compel his audience into seeing the blatant discrimination that the African Americans face. He uses emotional appeal to move people to take a stand against their brutal oppression; however, in his fervent passion, he sometimes makes remarks that may make white Americans feel attacked, and consequently, lead to them not being receptive of his views as a form of defense. In the speech, King addresses the audience that how even a 100 years later after the slavery ended, the African Americans aren’t truly free. They still do not possess the equal rights and opportunities they deserve and are constantly shunned. Dr king lays stress on the significance of the present. He alludes to a revolution, warning the nation not to underestimate the urgency of the cause. Towards the end of his speech, he lays out his vision for new, great America, where there would be no placefor racial bias and segregation, and every soul could experience freedom.

As he delivers his speech on the steps of Lincoln memorial, he alludes to Abraham Lincoln “Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation”(1). The first four words of the speech are an allusion to his Gettysburg address, and an instantly recognizable piece of American rhetoric that in one fell swoop links America’s founding which Lincoln spoke of, and the civil war when he spoke, to King’s fight for civil rights. It’s important for him to frame civil rights as a chapter of a larger American methodology so that those who identify with that methodology might incorporate this struggle into that story. His use of Lincoln brings authority into his speech as Lincoln was a powerful, and a reputed president who empowered the American people throughout the civil war and gained their trust to establish a new sense of freedom in America.

Furthermore, he brings up the US constitution and the declaration of Independence where in all Americans are given equal rights. However, these laws are only true for the white Americans since the black have always been treated as second class citizens and are deprived of the basic human needs. Thus, King is setting up his credibility by tapping into the authority of a “great American” and the “promissory note” (1). Throughout his speech, king paints situations in metaphorical and visual ways to hold onto his audience’s interest. The devotees could see what he was saying as he spoke. King’s use of metaphors in the speech sheds light on the hope that awaits the black once their fight for freedom is over. He states, “This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality” (1). King shifts the seasons because for those living in the American south, autumn is more relieving than summer. He diverts his focus from time tot the southern states especially because of the increased brutality taking place there under the Jim Crow laws due to which blacks could not use the same public facilities, go to the same schools or even live in the same towns as the whites (“Civil Rights Movement”).

When king asserts that one day even the state of Mississippi which swelters with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice (3), he aggrandizes his message of hope to those anguished the most. Such profound use of metaphors influences the audience in a way that literally language cannot and aids in charming and persuading the crowd at a different level. In addition to this, King also makes the most of imagery to create contrasts and prove his point. As it can be seen from the statement, “Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice; now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood” (1), king makes striking contrasts to grab the audience’s attention. The valley usually implies to a low area which is hard to exit while sun symbolizes a new beginning where the racial divisions in America are demolished. Furthermore, quicksand connotes a trap from which breaking through is hard whilst the rock of brotherhood is the one that will help them survive peacefully therefore this is what they should strive for. King not only highlights the trials, but also draws a picture of the potential benefits of their endeavours.

This indubitably galvanizes the audience to continue to put their best foot forward when demanding and fighting for their civil rights. Besides these, one of the things that make King’s words so memorable is their musicality. He opts for alliteration from the beginning of his speech and returns to it again and again as it helps a phrase stick in the mind for instance when he says that come to our nation’s capital to cash a check (1) or citizens of colour are connected (1), or even the marvellous new militancy (2). Another rhetoric device that King adopts to sway the audience away is his empathetic repetition. King put a lot of thought into writing his speech as he emphasized on those points which would have a great impact on the crowd for example “I have a dream” (2-3) and “Let freedom ring” (3). King successfully repeats to drive his point home. However, there are a few people who believe that king’s speech is rather monotonous as he has already talked about “his dream” on several other occasion in the past. But it should not be forgotten that the Washington March was the first time King was addressing this big of a crowd. Therefore, the impact of this speech was staggering. Usually there are high chances for a 17-minute-long allocution to be humdrum, but King did not fail to keep the crowd captivated by putting forth his claims in different ways. He makes use of short phrases at times for instance, “We cannot walk alone” (2); “we cannot turn back” (2), to convey a strong yet memorable message.

Along with this, he also he reinforces his speech matter with long, complex sentences to make the listeners aware of the gravity of the issues. Withal, the tone of King throughout his speech does not reflect authority over the people at all. He has intentionally come down to talk about the issues on their level and addresses the crowd as he’s one of them instead of portraying himself as an authoritative leader. King’s speech makes it evident that king has witnessed the oppression against the Negros very closely and he understands every thought that crosses their minds. There are several instances in the speech where king includes himself by using words like “we” and “us” which aids King in earning audience’s trust. This faith will act as a turning point for the black community because if they place confidence in king’s words and act accordingly and leave no stone unturned, nothing can stop them from acquiring freedom. King’s words are a beacon of hope for the African Americans, but what gives king the strength to take a leap in the dark are the words of God. His vision for America arose directly from his religious beliefs. Under the shadow of his Christian ideologies, he asks the crowd to follow a non-violent approach when fighting for their basic human rights. In his speech, King makes several references to the verses of Bible and tries to instil in the audience the same level of faith as he himself has. It’s true that the word of the divine creator might encourage some to hold hands in a quest for equality; on the contrary, it’s highly likely that a high degree of emphasis on Christianity solely might push others away from the cause. In the 1960s, the United States was going through a phase known as the religious crisis where the Christians were not only divided into conservative and liberal Christians, but also there was an uproar in the country towards secularisation (McLeod).

Religion is an extremely sensitive topic for most people and thus King’s focus on mere Christian ideologies might causeresentment amongst other groups with different ideals. One of the reasons King refers to the Bible so often is that he wants to tug the heartstrings of his audience and evoke the emotions of unity amongst his listeners. However, whether it appeals the crowd in the same way or not is questionable. The greatness of King’s speech lies in the fact that he did not depend on just one method of persuasion; he used different approaches to put his point across. This time he opts for celebrated negro spiritual and a song to further enhance his claims. He quotes from the song My Country, ‘Tis of Thee, which was previously used in an anti-slavery movement as an outcry that America certainly wasn’t the “sweet land of liberty” for the Negros (3).

The chant elicits mixed emotions for the audience as it was written as a song of promise but was used by the blacks as complaint. King further employs the emotions to arouse the audience when he refers to how he wants his children to be judged based on their character rather than their skin colour (3). A lot of parents in the audience could relate to king’s views and thus appreciate his point of view even more. He also uses strong diction to stimulate empathy within the audience especially amongst the whites who are present in the march. Phrases like “crippled by the manacles of segregation” (1) and “unspeakable horrors of police brutality” (2) portray a clear picture to the Whites about the torture their fellow brothers are going through and consequently results in them taking an active role in the fight for the Blacks. Although king mentions during his speech about how important it is for the black and the white to work together towards peace, there are instances when King specifically targets the whites for taking up Black community’s rights. Furthermore, no acknowledgement was given to the Whites who decided to join the demonstration. King’s attitude towards the whites did not help in easing the situation at all for the Blacks. If King had recognized the efforts of the Whites, who took part in the movement without pondering over the harsh consequences they might have to deal with later as they were going against their own community in a way, the movement would’ve had a much more powerful impact on America as a whole.

However, some argue that giving credit to Whites in the speech, would’ve lessened its impact. The way King constructs his discourse is commendable; “one hundred years later” (1), “now is the time” (1), “I have a dream” (2). The speech goes from the past, to the present and onto the future of civil rights and is threaded with a refusal to settle for anything other than the ideal of freedom and equality. Throughout his address, king instils the confidence in his people that end of darkness and oppression are very near and there is light at the end of the tunnel. His “I have a dream” segment of the speech is so extraordinarily delivered that it imprints King’s vision in the minds of people and till today sends shivers down the spine of anyone listening to those great words as king didn’t leave any stone unturned when explaining how America should be in the near future and the way the Blackcommunity should be treated. Therefore, it is often considered the most beloved part of his speech because firstly, it gives the blacks something to be optimistic about and look forward to and secondly it summarizes all the aspirations of the black community who have years after years dealt with prejudice and torture.

18 May 2020

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