To "Educate, Engage, and Excite" his audiences, King used a range of rhetorical tactics (e.g., alliteration, repetition, rhythm, allusion, and more), and his ability to captivate hearts and minds via the innovative use of pertinent, effective, and emotionally affecting metaphors was unparalleled. The "I Have A Dream" speech is considered by many to be one of the most important orations in American history, as it articulated a vision for America's future racial harmony and equality.
Rhetoric—the study of discourse and communication—is an integral part of any good teacher's toolkit. Rhetorical strategies are methods used to make ideas clear and interesting to listeners/readers. Effective teachers use different rhetorical strategies to engage their students. For example, teachers may choose to use examples, maps, diagrams, or persuasive language to get their points across.
The "I Have A Dream" speech was delivered at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28, 1963. At this event, King called on Americans to work together to achieve racial justice. He asked them to help him "march toward a new dream for our nation." In addition to being aware of the historical context of the event itself, teachers should also learn about other major events that occurred around the same time. By doing so, they can connect what is happening in society today with what was happening years ago.
Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" Speech Rhetorical Techniques
There are three rhetorical tactics that stand out: imagery, allusion, and anaphora. In his "I Have a Dream" speech, Dr. King employs the rhetorical tactic of imagery. He uses this method by describing what life was like for blacks in America during this time period. The most common form of imagery used by orators is metaphor. A metaphor is when one thing is used to describe another thing with which it has something in common. For example, when Dr. King says, "I have a dream that one day every valley will be exalted and every hill and mountain will be made low," he is using metaphor to explain that even though things seem hopeless now, they are not. The old stereotypes about black people being slaves or animals can no longer hold back progress. Even though there are still many problems in our country today related to race, this does not mean that everything King said in his speech was wrong.
Dr. King also uses analogy to explain other issues that were happening in our country at the time of his speech. For example, when he mentions "the patient who goes to a doctor with a sick body only to find that same doctor wants to cut him down to size," he is using analogy to say that even though there are some great achievements of black people in America, we cannot forget the many problems we still face today.
Martin Luther King Jr. makes great use of repetitions, analogies, and references in "I Have a Dream." Antithesis, direct address, and enumeration are other rhetorical tactics to be aware of.
Repetition is when an author or speaker mentions or refers back to something previously mentioned or referred to. In "I Have a Dream," Martin Luther King Jr. uses repetition to create impact. He begins this speech by asking Americans to imagine what it would be like if they were denied their basic rights. Then he asks them to imagine what it would be like if these rights were granted to blacks only to take them away again later (antithesis). This technique can be seen in the following line: "So I ask anyone who has been given much, who has been told that he or she is not worthy of much, to give back much; and to follow Jesus' call to love one's neighbor as oneself.
Analogy is when two things that are different but have some connection are compared together. For example, Martin Luther King Jr. compares racial segregation to religious discrimination in order to make his audience understand that both practices are wrong. Reference is when someone speaks of something that has already been said or done. For example, King uses the phrase "the dream of our ancestors" at the beginning of his speech to refer to the belief that all men deserve equal rights.
Dr. King's favorite rhetorical tactic in his "I Have a Dream" speech was metaphor. A metaphor is a comparison of two unrelated objects in which one is supposed to be the other, and these metaphors enable him construct pictures for his audience and dramatize the socioeconomic realities he discusses. For example, when Dr. King compares the condition of black Americans to that of slaves, he is using a metaphorical device to make a point about racial inequality.
Slavery has been widely regarded as the worst human rights violation in U.S. history. The institution of slavery distorted the labor market and prevented blacks from becoming entrepreneurs or working their way out of poverty. It also denied them many basic freedoms including the right to own property. By comparing the conditions of blacks today to those of slaves past, Dr. King hopes to encourage his listeners to believe that equality is still far away but also to understand the current state of racism in this country.
Besides metaphor, another technique King uses frequently is the anecdote. An anecdote is a brief narrative describing an incident or series of incidents that possess special significance for its audience. In Dr. King's speech, he tells several stories to illustrate different aspects of racism in America. For example, he recounts an incident where he and some other boys were sent home from school for wearing black shoes on Monday, the day that schools began offering classes after Labor Day.
In his speaking, King employs a distinct diction style, including iconic similes and metaphors, terminology, vocabulary, and tone. By using his own language, he makes his discourse more emotive and compelling. By evaluating King's diction, one may have a better understanding of the role it plays in the speech.
Diction is the use of words to express ideas. In oral communication, diction includes both the way you say something and the way you choose your words. Diction can be explicit (the use of particular grammatical forms or phrases) or implicit (the quality of your voice or body language). For example, when you speak English, you must select words from a dictionary for they do not come ready-made with definitions. Instead, they need to be chosen with care because their meaning depends on their context.
A speaker's choice of words affects how others perceive them and what they think about the topic under discussion. For example, if you want your listeners to believe you are important, you should use words such as "we," "our," and "I." If you want them to feel happy for you, then "happy" and "good" are appropriate choices. And if you want them to act now, then the word you need is "now."
The speaker's intent determines which words will best convey that intent.