Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” was written in 1963. This is a time when African Americans were fighting for equality with whites. From this letter, one can learn that Martin Luther King Jr. wanted freedom for the blacks. This written message’s main purpose was to persuade the clergymen that the street demonstrations of Afro-Americans were a necessary of that particular time. King uses convincing and disapproving tones in his piece to appeal to the emotions of his former colleagues. This is aimed at persuading the reader to agree with him, and believe what he believes in. Furthermore, he uses visuals that back up and show the validity of his arguments. This is made successful by the use of logos, pathos and ethos in the entire piece.
The use of logos in his letters is a way of supporting his rebuttal against the clergyman. In this work, King tries to backup the fact that the oppressed had no option other than to prepare for direct and unwavering action. A civil rights activist applies a variety of reasonable explanations and examples to prove this point. For instance, Martin Luther mentions historical evidence to prove his point: he echoes Thomas Jefferson’s statement that all men are created equal. This was a kind of strategy: to use a famous person who is mutually respected to make a position, and also to persuade his audience on the truth and facts of the whole situation.
The style that King goes to in his letter is effective to all readers. He uses examples to explain facts and approve his arguments. One notes that there are too many instances in the letter, nevertheless, they serve the purpose of making all readers understand the writer’s and his people’s great goal, and feel persuaded in their rightness. The use of ethos, pathos and logos is helpful in relating to the epistle’s observer. It is justifiable to claim that the style of the letter does not target a specific audience. It can be easily understood by everyone who reads it.
The organization of the letter is remarkable since it flows and does not confuse the reader. The paragraphs of the letter are consistent and make the required transition and connection effective. From sentence to sentence, King takes the reader to the next action or explanation. This creates a consistent flow of the letter and the reader feels like there is nothing left out he or she would have needed to know. For example, the leader in the African-American Civil Rights Movement starts his literary work by explaining its purpose, and the place where he is writing it from, and the cause why the author is at the Birmingham Jail. This creates a logical link of the letter.
According to Johnson, the most effective sentence in the letter was the second last paragraph. This is because, King’s statement makes the reader pause for a minute and recapture the whole written message, and evaluate it and facts that he has given as explanations to why demonstrating was the best option for the African Americans. The aforementioned options of the reader lead to his critical thinking. Such process will give the person a possibility to decide whether the direct action that King and his people choose was called for or not.
The most important element in the letter is its ending. The fighter for racial equality concludes with a massive appeal to unity and peace – a forceful emotional pathos. Even in the last sentence, it reminds the reader of the main purpose of the whole letter-speech. It serves the aim of recapping and re-motivating the readers all over again. The individual finishes the reading having in mind King’s motivation for pacification and harmony.
- Johnson, Davi. "Martin Luther King Jr.'s 1963 Birmingham Campaign as Image Event." Rhetoric and Public Affairs 10.1 (2007): 1-25. Print.
- DeYoung, Melbourne J. “Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "Letter from Birmingham Jail". Santa Barbara: Intellimation, 2003. Print.