"Letter From A Birmingham Jail" - Passage Analysis Assignment

Essay by listenoutwardHigh School, 11th gradeA, May 2004

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On Good Friday in 1963, 53 blacks, led by Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., marched into downtown Birmingham, Alabama, to protest the existing segregation laws. All were arrested. This caused the clergymen of this Southern town to compose a letter appealing to the black population to stop their demonstrations. In response to their letter, King wrote back in what would be titled "Letter From A Birmingham Jail". Especially prevalent in the letter are Aristotle's appeals, which include logos, ethos and pathos. The concluding section of the document is a well rounded, and demonstrates all of the appeals. Rhetorical techniques and literary devices serve to further strengthen King's argument and create a convincing argument that he is right in both his mission and his methods.

King immediately appeals to logos, or logic, when he states, "It is true that the police have exercised a degree of discipline in handing the demonstrators.

In this sense they have conducted themselves rather "nonviolently" in pubic. But for what purpose? To preserve the evil system of segregation". The answer he gives to his question is correct, and this is even clearer in retrospect. By exposing the logical fallacies of the opposing argument, he weakens the clergymen's argument while at the same time strengthening his own.

In order to back up his point of view and turn himself into an authority for the audience, King uses ethos. Using repetition, he writes, "Before the pilgrims landed at Plymouth, we were here. Before the pen of Jefferson etched the majestic words of the Declaration of Independence across the pages of history, we were here". Here he identifies himself as part of a group of people who have been in America just as long, and at the same time stresses the repeated nature of the problem.