Analysis of Letter from a Birmingham Jail
Martin Luther King Jr.’s thesis in Letter from a Birmingham Jail states why he is in Birmingham. Though he is not from there, he is there because of the many injustices done by the white people towards the black community. Dr. King states that, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”, so he is there to help his brothers and sisters stand together.
MLK uses appeals to pathos and logos, and historical references, as well as many other techniques in his letter to the clergymen that criticize him. One of the rhetorical techniques Dr. King uses is the appeal to pathos. One of the biggest appeals to pathos in Letter from a Birmingham Jail is in paragraph 12, when Martin Luther King Jr. states many different examples of how black people were treated.
He claims that it is difficult for the people of Birmingham to continue waiting for change while their families are being segregated and killed. Another example of appeal to pathos is near the end of the letter. Dr. King commends the nonviolent protestors, such as the young men who sat at lunch counters and were arrested, and the many women who agreed not to partake in public transportation, and chose to walk to their destinations.
MLK associates them with James Meredith and calls them the “real heroes”. The last appeal is when he writes, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” He is telling the readers that they have an obligation to do something to help the people of Birmingham. The second technique is the appeal to logos. The first appeal to logos is when Dr. King states that he is in the “middle of two opposing forces in the Negro community”.
Another example of appeal to logos is when he states that it is unfair when a law is used against a minority, because that person wouldn’t have been able to have a part in the passing of the law. Probably the best use of appeal to logic is when Martin Luther King describes the four basic steps to a good nonviolent campaign. He breaks down each step for the clergymen that are reading the letter.
Thirdly, Dr. King’s historical references help support his thesis. The first sentence in paragraph 12 says, “We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God given rights.” This sentence adds credibility to his point, because he is talking about when Christopher Columbus discovered the Americas.
Another use of historical references is when Dr. King compares himself to Paul the apostle. This affects the emotions of the people he writes to. Lastly, he refers to Socrates. He uses the example of Socrates and how we would not have academic freedom if it was not for his acts of civil disobedience.