Summary Essay: Letter from Birmingham Jail

A Letter from Birmingham Jail was a response of Martin Luther King, Jr., to the clergymen who wrote a statement that completely denied King’s ways of protest against racism. In order to achieve an effective argument, Dr. King balanced various aspects of thoughts’ organization, different rhetorical devices, and figurative language.

Driven by his pastoral background, Dr. King wrote the letter in a sermon-like manner. On the other hand, such an eloquent style of writing made the argument even more effective and gave it a smooth flow. Antithesis is one of the most used rhetorical devices with the help of which Dr. King conveyed the specific purpose of his writing. For example, the statement “Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed,” (p. 807) hints on the author’s true belief that equality among all races can be achieved only through protests. Parallelism is another rhetorical device that ensured a smooth progression of ideas in Dr. King’s letter. For instance, in the statement; “Before the pilgrims landed at Plymouth, we were here. Before the pen of Jefferson etched the majestic words of the Declaration of Independence across the pages of history, we were here,” (p. 817) Dr. King converged the destiny of the USA with the destiny of the African-Americans using parallelism. In addition, with the help of rhetorical questions, such as “Is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world?” (p. 817), the author implemented smooth transitions between the ideas. These rhetorical devices were used by Dr. King as the elements of effective writing in A Letter from Birmingham Jail.

Dismal metaphors and anaphoric type sentences that transmitted all-consuming passion and desperation of the author made Dr. King’s writing more descriptive and creative. For instance, visual metaphors, such as “Too long has our beloved Southland been bogged down in a tragic effort to live in monologue rather than dialogue” added darkness and despair to Dr. King’s writing. In addition, anaphoric sentences underlined the desperate tone of the author, for example, “But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers […]; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse […]; when you see the vast majority […]; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted […]” (p. 809). Dr. King’s writing, where he demonstrated his true feelings and care for the African-Americans, allowed the readers to perceive him as a honest and vulnerable person.

With the help of rhetorical devices, the organization of points, and compelling sentences, Dr. King intended to persuade the clergymen in the effectiveness of peaceful protests in the combat against racism. Personal feelings and passions of the author along with the well-organized thoughts made Dr. King’s argument effective and interesting to the readers.


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