Letter from Birmingham Jail


Remember that this letter, written from his jail cell, is considered one of the most effective and eloquent arguments of the 20



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Remember that this letter, written from his jail cell, is considered one of the most effective and eloquent arguments of the 20th century. As you prepare your presentation, consider the following rhetorical strategies MLK uses:

  • Use of Aristotle’s structure of argument:

  • Effective ways he addresses clergymen’s arguments and dismantles their assumptions/warrants.

  • What are his own claims, evidence, warrants?

  • How does he back up/support his claims, defend his claims and warrants?

  • His use of confirmation and rebuttal (anticipating the opposing side’s argument).

  • Qualifier: Does he ever limit the scope of his claim?

  • Does he seek common ground? Build trust with his audience? Reduce the threat his audience may feel?



Also, take note of King’s noteworthy stylistic choices, their purpose, and their effect on his argument:

  • periodic, loose, and balanced sentence structures

  • figurative language (metaphors, similes, analogies, personification, etc.)

  • effective choices in diction and syntax (antithesis, alliteration, anaphora)

  • details and imagery (light and dark metaphors, high and low imagery, Biblical and patriotic allusions)



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