Essay Example: Letter from Birmingham Jail/ 3 Rhetorical Devices Used

Published: 2024-01-14
Essay Example: Letter from Birmingham Jail/ 3 Rhetorical Devices Used
Type of paper:  Essay
Categories:  Philosophy Martin Luther King Civil rights
Pages: 4
Wordcount: 980 words
9 min read

The concept that injustice is all over, not just in the courts, was upheld in "Birmingham Jail Letter." In the letter, the author uses insinuations from different philosophers to transmit his message. Through the letter, the author places Martin Buber as the father of Eastern philosophy. Also, the father of Western philosophy is King Socrates. The first mention by King of Socrates concerns his theory that tension is necessary for the mind. Using his famous questioning technique, Socrates attempted to create a cognitive dissonance that forced people to reassess their own views and, in particular, the state of affairs. Buber's "I-it" connection is an object-to-object relationship in which two persons are distinct. The "I-Thou" correlation is a specific topic connection where two human beings are cognizant of their togetherness since there is interaction instead of a disconnection. Martin Luther King, Jr. mentions Buber in his letter by using the definitions of words of the Jewish scholar Martin Buber, replacing the "I-it" connection with the "I-thou" correlation and ultimately ended up demoting people to the position of things. In his letter, King applies pathos, ethos, and logos to convince his audience of his actions clearly.

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In using historical examples of how legislation was not right, King uses logos more successfully. He discusses the killing of many by Hitler, which was deemed to be "legal" by the then-current laws. Hitler was murdering innocent people, torturing families, destroying cities for "racial purification." (King, 1963) Hitler and his Nazi surrogates killed more than eleven million people, and only six million were Jews. The attacks were not only anti-Semitic but also Gypsies, lesbians, guys, psychologically and physically handicapped people, Poles, Christians, Communists, and Socialists (King, 1963). The children were millions of them. While this was legal, attempts to save these groups from cruel and unusual punishment were deemed illegal by the Nazi administration. Nobody was permitted to assist any of the factions out of prison camps. Whilst contrasting both of these actions with the legality of both, his reasoning is logical. A law might be a law; however, this does not necessarily imply that it is right. Having used the logos in his illustrations between Hitler and relief organizations over the Holocaust enables King's letter to be much more convincing. Furthermore, King demonstrates the difference between a fair and unfair law. King references Thomas Aquinas saying, “An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law." That implies that legislation that is beneficial to just a small group of people and has no religious basis or consequences for the whole society is fair. King goes on with his examination that if the majority vote in law and the minority has no say and the law advantages only the large proportion, that is not the perfect law (King, 1963). That was very logical and led people to think of the unfair laws that African Americans handle every day. Since they had nearly no rights and were isolated, they had no right to a large number of laws. The result was that America had several laws that profited White people and discredited Black People. Consequently, when people read this, they believed the King more because this letter was logical and sound.

In giving instances of what often happens to African Americans while the law stands by and does not do anything, King uses pathos effectively. He speaks about the lynching of fathers and mothers and the drowning of siblings since white people believed in it. This makes people feel that the horrors break their hearts that these people experience. He as well talks about a little girl who sees an advertisement for launch fun. When not permitted to access, the girl wails because such a venue was not authorized to host black people in there (King, 1963). This demonstrates that even children are not saved when it comes to racial prejudice. These instances annoy people at the situation of African Americans and rage at the law's absence. Accordingly, pathos is used very efficiently by reading a paragraph to make people feel such emotions.

In his letter to the priests, King uses ethos effectively by citing several historical characters in his letter to clarify that an extremist is not inherently dangerous. He lists some historical characters: Peter, a Gospel fundamentalist, Abraham Lincoln, a Freedom fundamentalist, and Thomas Jefferson, a Social justice extremist (King, 1963). These people were amazing, and observing how these men conducted their affairs; individuals can see how the clergy were wrong to say that the extremist groups were bad. The clergy labeling of King’s actions as extremist acts and worth of punishment was seriously misguided. Extremism can be positive or negative depending on the circumstance and intentions. In this situation, King was fighting to recognize African Americans and guarantee fair and equal treatment by the American administration. Therefore, King's description of historical figures is successful in ethos since this made people believe extremism is a powerful and just way.

In conclusion, although ethos was well used in King's letter, I truly think the most appropriate pathos and logos are the descriptions of what Black People face each day, historical explanations of the law that was not correct, and the making of a just or unjust law. The author expresses the daily emotional impact that families have had to face, a perfect illustration of pathos. Logos can be seen in historical events where the law was, although not in the Holocaust. Logos is also clearly depicted when King explains the distinctions between just legislation and an unfair one; for instance, if law only advantages a small group and damages the entire entity, it is not good. Therefore, King's letter was all convincing, emotional, and highly convincing in its entirety.


King M.L. (1963). Martin Luther King Jr.'s 'Letter from Birmingham Jail'. The Atlantic.

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