A Few Rhetorical and Stylistic Devices in the "I Have a Dream" Speech
Ex. “Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood” (paragraph 4, sentence 1).
Martin Luther King Jr. uses a metaphor in his speech by comparing the way America needs to rid itself of racial injustice to raising a stone from quicksand to solid rock. Racial injustice is the quicksand that will bury the stone that represents our nation. By bringing the stone onto the solid rock, representing brotherhood, it no longer is in danger of sinking in the quicksand.
Ex. “The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny and their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom” (paragraph 7, sentence 4).
Martin Luther King Jr. uses antithesis by describing militancy with the word marvelous. This is an antithesis because usually militancy has a negative outcome. Instead of acknowledging that negativity, however, King describes it as “marvelous.”
Ex. “No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream” (paragraph 8, last sentence).
The simile used by Martin Luther King Jr., here, describes his desire for justice and righteousness. He says he and the American people will not be satisfied until justice and righteousness flow through the nation like water would flow through a mighty stream.
Ex. “Five score years ago, a great American in whose symbolic shadow we stand signed the Emancipation Proclamation” (paragraph 1, sentence 1).
The opening sentence of Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech is an allusion to Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. He opens up the same way as the address (“4 score and 7 years ago”) and talks about President Lincoln in the rest of the sentence as well. He does this to show that the same problem that was discussed in the time is still going on today.
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What can we learn about rhetorical devices in famous speeches, and how do they affect the way politicians and inspirational figures convey ideas and principles to the public? Let's look at examples.