Letter From Birmingham Jail



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Analysis of “Letter From Birmingham Jail” by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Directions: Read the essay and respond to these questions on your own paper. Be prepared to discuss your answers and use them to de-construct King’s arguments.




  1. Look at paragraphs 1-2. What is the position King is arguing against? Explain and Quote

  2. How does King justify the need for a non-violent campaign in Birmingham? Look at paragraphs 3-5.

  3. Why the need for direct action? Why not negotiate? Look at paragraph 10.

  4. What does King mean when he says groups are more immoral than individuals? Do you agree? Look at paragraph 12.

  5. How does King use pathos in paragraph 14? What is the effect? Where do the tone shifts happen?

  6. Explain King’s distinction between just and un-just laws. How do we distinguish them? Look at paragraphs 16-19.

  7. How does King use allusion in the last paragraph (31)?

  8. Explain King’s criticism of white moderates and the white churches. Why does he feel they are America’s biggest obstacle to the end of segregation? Look at paragraphs 23-26, 35.

  9. What does King mean when he says that protestors do not create tension, they merely bring it to the surface? Look at paragraph 24.

  10. According to King, is action in support of a moral ideal a form of extremism? If so, is it acceptable? Look at paragraph 31.

  11. Usually, the connotation of extremists is negative. How does King’s use of allusion in these lines prompt the reader to rethink the concept of extremists? Look at paragraph 31.

  12. King says, “One day the South will recognize its real heroes.” Clarify. Who are the false heroes the South admired? Who are the “real heroes”? Look at paragraph 32.

  13. Why does King end the letter with a series of apologies (paragraph 49(? What is the effect on the reader?

13. Find 3 quotes in Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience” that directly influence King. Explain why you chose each quote.

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