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I Have a Dream” Rhetorical Mastery


One of the landmarks of the American Civil Rights Movement refers to the “I Have a Dream” speech by Martin Luther King Jr., which was delivered during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963. Infused with an irresistible concoction of moral courage and rhetoric, this speech has outlived its timeframe, representing the unending crusade against injustice and discrimination.

In this iconic speech, King eloquently expresses his views on how America could be transformed into a color-blind nation while incorporating elements such as ethos, pathos, and so much more. The strength of his ethos comes from his position as an admired leader in the Civil Rights Movement and a symbol of goodness that permeates throughout the speech. At the same time, he applies pathos to touch the very essence of the listener’s feelings and ignites with the light of hope the flames of suffering caused by racism. Carefully woven in its fabric is the logical use of logos, which provides the structure of a sequence of ideas upon which he bases his plea for justice.

The thesis proposes that King achieves his goal with rhetorical devices such as allusion and strategic repetition of what is perhaps the most potent refrain in American history – “I have a dream.” This sets up an analysis of how through rhetorical de

Background and context

In particular, there was considerable race discrimination, racial segregation, and a total disregard for justice for black Americans in American history at that time. This was a period whose hallmark was the endless struggles of the activists and political leaders with their focus on bringing down the racial apartheid system. The objective of this venture was to enact civil rights legislation, stop separation, and eliminate socio-cultural inequality that maintained racism.

One of the most critical events in this troubled period was the march on August 28, 1963, known as the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The march was organized to bring together around 250,000 persons from different groups represented in a coalition of civil rights organizations, labor unions, and religious groups. It was used as a platform for economic equality and the promotion of civil rights legislation to end race segregation. Through his speech “I have a dream,” which he gave at the backdrop of the Lincoln Memorial, Martin Luther King Jr. left a scar in the consciousness of the national population.

There is no denying that “I have a dream” cannot be undermined in the framework of the civil rights movement. Millions had hopes in King’s speech, which entailed that people should be judged on merits and not the color of their skin. Therefore, this speech became the battle cry that represented the desire for equality among the people who were involved with this struggle, and is currently the foundation on which their heritage is built upon.

Text Selection and Overview

The choice of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech, which has made an unforgettable mark in American history as well as has played an important role in the promotion of civil rights movement. The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom speech of 1963 is one of the most notable moments of the fight to end discrimination based on race. This means that this speech makes a great subject for detailed study due to King’s eloquence, moral authority and manipulation of rhetoric.

While short, it has enough substance to guide us through all the rhetoric (Aranda et al., 2021). The text is based on reliable old-time sources as it can be traced back in an archival history. The King’s choice of words is quite conscious; pace, pitch, the speech’s power depends on it.

An analysis is most effective when applied to speech which falls in a moderate length. A brief text may be too shallow for exploring the full range of rhetorical devices, and a verbatim may exceed the limits of comprehension. Concision and significance, in “I Have a Dream”, enable us to examine closely King’s persuasive techniques (pathos, ethos, logos), rhetorical device, anaphora, and the issue addressed. The moderate length of this speech and its historical significance makes it a great candidate for a comprehensive rhetorical study

Initial Impressions and Author’s Tone

The initial time I listened to Martin Luther’s “I Have a Dream” speech, the responses had a crucial effect on me. Kings’ words were so direct that they instantly touched one’s heart. There was an inner feeling that this was the fight for justice (Decker, 2020). Emotional energy and high-minded vision ensured that one would remember the potency of eloquence.

As we analyze King’s tone, it shows a fine balance between urgency and hope. The tone is passionate and cautious, taking into account the seriousness of the matter but with unbowed faith in the future. In a very deep sense, King uses a tone, which both reflects upon the brutality that comes with racism and rouses the people to imagine a better society devoid of prejudices and inequalities. Carefully crafted and powerful tone creates an emotional bond that magnifies the impression of King’s appeal for equality and justice.

Ethos: King’s Credibility and Authority

Towards the cause of equality and justice, Martin Luther King Jr. was the most prominent leader, who fought in the historical backdrop of the Civil Rights movement. So, he was involved in important events of the movement and his position brought about great influence to the entire movement by way of being a nonviolent activist. Ethos can also be felt during King’s “I Have a Dream” speech when he utilizes his personal experiences with segregation. He achieves this by relating his aim to fundamental values underpinning the country’s existence since inception, such as the document of emancipation proclamations and the Declaration of Independence.

Pathos: Emotional Appeals in the Speech

The speech involves a lot of emotional moments, and King effectively evokes different emotions through this. The moving narration about “the shameful state” under which racial inequality existed, and the hope that one day no child will “be judged only based on skin color but by their content”. The emotional appeals work deeply into the hearts of the audience, making them have a similar feeling, like in pain and hope. Therefore, if King connects emotionally with his hearers, he will bring about an inner-resolve to fight for what is fair and justness which will in due time unite them and give them a motive that they are working on something collectively.

Logos: Logical Structure of King’s Arguments

The structured organization ensures that the logical flow in the piece is very clear. To start with, he reviews the context of history and creates well-grounded arguments on civil rights and why they are much needed here (Suddaby et al., 2022). He achieves this through parallelism as well as repetition, which makes his points clearer and memorable. The logos makes this speech strong in that it presents a reasonable pattern for King’s thought process. Logical continuation of this argument emphasizes the necessity of these changes and makes it easy for them to assimilate this information into their social and political outlooks. Logos is used strategically to enhance the forcefulness of the appeal.

Anaphora: Skillful Deployment for Rhythmic Emphasis

Indeed, one powerful aspect of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech is the effective use of anaphora. In addition, King deliberately uses the word “I have a dream” in the speech, which acts as a binding fiber with periodic pulsations and strong vibration. In doing so, this deliberate recurrence creates an impression of continuance and immerses the audience in the vision that King expresses. The term anaphora comes from the Greek language and refers to repeated words or phrases at the beginning of consecutive clauses. It serves as a strong style in rhetoric, conferring emphasis, memory, and emotional effect. An example for anaphora is the reoccurring sentence: ‘I have a dream’ found in King’s speech. This repeated phrase stresses some points and desires towards one ideal goal – peaceful world devoid of the racial conflicts. Anaphora contributes a lot to the rhythm and emotive power in a speech. Through a repetitive structure, which creates a rhythm, attention is captured, emphasizing the importance of King’s appeal. These ideals are equally as important as other aspects because they involve intentional repetition and, thus, etch themselves into the listeners’ memories. Anaphora makes King’s monologue more than just a declaration of abstract ideas; it gives it the pulse which turns it into a rhythmical plea for social change.

Thesis Statement Reiteration

The analysis underscores the validity of the thesis statement: Using rhetoric, King was able to employ ethos, pathos, and logos to advocate for his point that “his dream was inseparable from America’s dream”. While “I Have a Dream” is not just an ordinary speech, the thesis still sustains its validity.


A close analysis of MLK’s “I Have a dream” reveals how these are the pillars of its persuasiveness – ethos, pathos, logos and anaphora. The ethos of the speech lies in King’s credibility as a civil rights leader based on his commitment to justice and freedom. Throughout its arguments, there is a strong element of pathos that contributes to this power. It invites people to see the “shameful state” of racism as being an insult to their very character. Moreover, the logos is supported by the logical structure, evident in the speech’s ordered presentation of the history followed by the vision toward racial equity. Rhythmic anaphora, shown in “I have a dream” refrain, turns the speech into a strong appealing call for social change. Even though King’s speech had been spoken in a particular time, it has turned out to be an eternal symbol for new generations which encourage them to strive for harmony and justice.


Aranda, A. M., Sele, K., Etchanchu, H., Guyt, J. Y., & Vaara, E. (2021). From Big Data to Rich Theory: Integrating Critical Discourse Analysis with Structural Topic Modeling. European Management Review.

Chabouni, B., Benbousaad, G., & AbdelhakMokhtari. (2023). Unveiling the U S Linguistics Landscape of Racism and Resistance in the 1960’s, A Descriptive and Critical Discourse Analysis of African American Society through the Lens of Martin Luther King and Malcom X.

Decker, M. (2020, May 20). Civil society and civil discourse: Eloquence and hope in the communications of presidents Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Barack Obama.

Rose, J. (2019). The Drum Major Instinct: Martin Luther King Jr.’s Theory of Political Service. In Google Books. University of Georgia Press.

Suddaby, R., Israelsen, T., Bastien, F., Saylors, R., & Coraiola, D. (2022). Rhetorical History as Institutional Work. Journal of Management Studies.


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