Argument of a Persuasive Essay: Letter from Birmingham Jail King’s essay “Letter from Birmingham Jail” he addresses the claims made about his arrest by the eight clergymen. His responses are very long and detailed, giving a very compelling and moving point of view. His letter is directed to his audience, which consists of white middle class citizens who Dr. King refers to as the “white moderates”. Dr. King’s letter is very persuasive because his use of pathos makes the audience think or imagine themselves in the situation. It is very poignant of him to write his letter this way. He is in touch with the views of his audience, which makes a greater impact on his readers. Dr. King uses antecdotes to make his readers see the injustice that would continue if there were no changes. It helps his audience to feel that they are a very powerful part of this issue and that they can make a difference.
Dr. King uses imagery in his writing that makes the audience visualize what he has seen. He knows that the white moderates have strong family values, so he reaches out to them by providing stories about children. There is one story about a little girl who has just seen an ad on television and when she asks her father if she can go, he has to look his daughter in the eye and tell her that “Funtown is closed to colored children”(King 561). He then goes on to explain about how that forces that young child to grow up to feel inferior and to begin to hate because she has darker skin than the other children do. Then there is another story about the family taking a cross-country vacation and having to “…sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile…” because motels would not accept colored people (King 561). It really makes the audience sit back and think,“Wow, what if that were me.”
Dr. King refers to his audience speaking to them directly and letting them know that he is very disappointed in the way that things are going. He addresses their feelings on the issues that are surrounding Birmingham, helping them to come to the realization that this was in fact what they were thinking and saying, and that they need to act on it for anything to change. He goes on to say “We bring it out into the open, where it can be seen and dealt with”(King 563).
King uses irony, by giving examples of him using peaceful actions that were condemned anyway because they were said to “precipitate violence”. He went on to say, “Isn’t that like condemning a robbed man because his possession of money precipitated in the evil act of robbery?”(King 563). Dr. King also realizes that the white moderates are mostly religious. He reminds them “Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability, it comes through tireless efforts of men willing to be co-workers with God…”(King 563). Again, he urges the audience to get up and become active, and that there will be no change without their action.
In paragraph 32, Dr. King again directly addresses his audience. He begins by saying, “I had hoped the white moderate would see this need. Perhaps I was too optimistic; perhaps I expected too much”(King 565). He makes them take a look at what they are and are not contributing to the situation, and brings about a certain amount of guilt that they should do something to help. He continues with “I suppose I should have realized that few members of the oppressor race can understand the deep groans and passionate yearnings of the oppressed race, and still fewer have the vision to see that injustice must be rooted out by strong, persistent and determined action.” People often feel that they should overcompensate to make their “wrong” a “right”, he uses this idea to target his audience, in hopes that they will act on it.
Dr. King then falls back into the visualizations and realities of the violence that is occurring and how it is being congratulated instead of reprimanded. He comments on the
Birmingham Police, who were commended for keeping order and preventing violence,
“I doubt that you would have so warmly commended the police force if you had seen its dogs sinking their teeth into the unarmed, non-violent Negroes”(King 568). In following paragraphs he says “I wish you would have commended the Negro sit-inners and demonstrators of Birmingham for their sublime courage, their willingness to suffer and their amazing discipline in the midst of great provocation”(King 568). Dr. King then concludes his letter with a strong ethos, and apologizes to his readers if they feel he has overstated the truth in anyway.
I believe that this letter is very persuasive. He addresses all of the charges that were brought upon him and he answers them all in full detail and truth. He addresses his audience with honesty and respect, without making his readers feeling like they were being vanquished. Instead they were being made aware of what their actions were doing to society, and that they could make a difference. Dr. King uses a very strong pathos while speaking to his audience. He helps them to see things from his perspective. He uses detailed stories that make the reader feel like they are seeing what is going on. He also uses his ethos to show his respect for the audience, which in turn puts a positive spin on the negativity of the whole situation.
King, Martin Luther, Jr. “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” Writing Arguments. Fifth ed.
Ed. John Ramage, et al. Boston: Allyn & Bacon, 2001. 558-69.