Martin Luther King was the Leader of the Civil Rights Movement in America. He wrote and delivered his famous speech on the 8th of August 1963 on the subject. This commentary will examine some of the language and rhetorical techniques that he uses in his speech, and how they allow the listener to picture and therefore understand his ideas. I think that his techniques are very helpful to picture the ideas that he is speaking about.
His language is very pictorial throughout the speech, and the main time that he uses imagery is when he is talking about their rights as the form of a cheque. The crowd can really understand the idea here, and this is shown by their reaction, both part way through the idea, and at the end of it. The way that he makes it clear that the ‘cheque’ has not been ‘cashed’ is so cleverly done that people can really understand that the rights have not been given. The way that he communicates with the audience by using an idea that would have been clear and understandable to most of them, (that the ‘cheque’ had come back marked ‘insufficient funds’) shows how he has really tried to work on an idea that would really get his point through.
All the way through the speech, Martin Luther King uses pictures, or forms to explain abstract nouns. He literally gives a feeling or an emotion (the abstract nouns) a solid object to refer to. E.g. “…beacon light of hope…” and “…desolate valley of segregation…” This lets the audience almost be able to ‘see’ or ‘touch’ emotions – he is using types of metaphor to display things that may not be understood normally. This is a good way of working his speech – so that he does not bore people with things / ideas that they do not understand. This is another example of how he is really trying to make it really easy and simple for the audience to understand.
Also, he uses repetition all the way through the speech. E.g. “Now is the time” and the famous “I have a dream”. This shows how he is pushing his point forward, and making sure that his ideas are firmly in the audience’s minds. This is a good way also to keep attention – as he emphasises the phrase every time he says it. This makes people think more about what he is saying – so they therefore absorb the information more.
Martin Luther King was a very strong-willed person, and this is shown by the mostly constant tone that he uses. His tone makes the speech sound three main things:
1) Important – he sounds firm and confidant, so he does not too thin and unimportant.
2) Definite – he does not allow his voice to waver or thin out – so the speech sounds very definite.
3) Inspiring – what he says leaves you thinking about it a lot.
He pauses a lot in the entire speech, but there are some places that are more prominent than most. He pauses after every time he says one of repetitions. This makes the audience think about what has been said, and lets it sink in a little bit more.
The audience reacts in different ways to different parts of Martin Luther King’s speech. They all cheer at the point where he says about the cheque being not cashed – where he says that it comes back marked ‘insufficient funds’. They all cheer straight after that. Also, they all cheer after he says, “all men are created equal”.
This speech by Martin Luther King changed the way American society worked. His stunning language and very clever rhetorical techniques really persuaded people to treat equality as a part of normal life. Martin Luther King was shot by an assassin in Memphis, Tennessee on the 3rd of April 1968.
Alex Brint 2001 2 Yr10wkEnglishMlkessay.doc
A Commentary on Martin Luther King’s Speech, considering how effective he is in using language ; rhetorical techniques to convey his ideas.