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I Have A Dream: Analasys

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Gymnasium am Kothen Wuppertal

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Identify and describe the employed stylistic devices which make King's speech such a moving example of powerful rhetoric.


In the following lines I am going to describe the employed stylistic devices.


In the first lines of his speech Martin L. King refers as already mentioned in another task to Abraham Lincoln and his “Emancipation Proclamation”. For this he uses a variety of metaphors. He points out the importance of Lincoln by mentioning his “symbolic shadow” (l.2). This metaphor is supposed to show that this person is still in their heads since a shadow is something which stays if the sunlight does not go down.

Furthermore, King compares the Emancipation Proclamation with “a great beacon of hope” (l. ) which should be an exemption for millions of black slaves however, Lincoln was not able to change something because it turned into “flames of withering injustice” (ll.5-6) Then he compares the Emancipation Proclamation with “a joyous daybreak to end the long day of their captivity” (ll.6-7). This imagery makes clear that Kink really knows how difficult his plan is however he wants to take over the lead from Lincoln on the long way to brotherhood, solidarity and equality in the life of all people.

"I have a dream" is known for its numerous anaphora, which begin with "one hundred years later" (ll.8, 9, 12, 14). This leads to the clarification, that even one hundred years after Lincoln's speech no completely satisfactory situation for the dark-skinned people of the United States has occured. By bringing in an alliteration he emphasizes once again the injustice that was done to colored people.

In contrast to each other, the imageries “lonely island of poverty” (l.10) and “vast ocean of material prosperity” (ll.12-14) show and emphasize the vast distance between the lives of blacks and whites. Besides, a lonely island is surrounded by a vast ocean which shows that the majority consists of prosperous and white people have influence on the disadvantage of blacks.

This is also explained in ll. 14 to 15 since “the Negro” is “languished in the corners of American society”, and since it is their “own land” as well, they do not have the ability to enjoy their lives because of having to stick to a disadvantage.

In the following lines, King elaborates the Declaration of Independence. He equates the authors of this Declaration with "architects of their Republic" (cf. l.19), which have signed a promissory note that every American, regardless whether white or black, may redeem. King specifically titled the Declaration of Independence as a promissory note, because it illustrates the promise that was given.

He also recites several phrases of the Declaration of Independence promising "that all men would be granted the inalienable rights of life, liberty and the persuit of happiness" (ll.23-26). Compared to a "bad check" (l.31) given to the blacks by the state although they were promised liberty and equality King critisizes the basic right and the core values of the United States.

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The anaphora "we refuse to believe" (ll.33, 34) doubted that the "bank of justice" (ll.33-34) can be bankrupt. King shows that they must not accept this situation, but they must struggle.

By the metaphor that he used in this reference, he prepares a comparison between a bank and of justice. Matching this, emphasizing the injustice that was done to the coloured people once again.

Moreover, King speaks of a “fierce urgency” (ll.42-43) to which he wants to remind America in relation to the promise and therefore to the commitment to the Declaration of Independence.

The blacks have only slowly get rights according to the time before King's speech.

They were satisfied bit by bit. King calls this method metaphorical "tranquilizing drug" (l.45) and he request them not longer to accept it.

He talks about a "dark and desolate valley of segregation" (l.48) from whom they should as soon as possible break up to pursue "the sunlit path of racial justice" (l.49). Cleverly, King inserts in these metaphors the light dark contrast.

Through the use of the anaphora "now is the time" (ll.46, 17, 49, 51) he announces a change of time. He clarifies here as in a previous anaphora ["we refuse to believe" (cf. ll.33, 34)] that the colored people must fight against racial segregation and they must not simply tolerate this segregation.

Further, King sais the “sweltering summer of the Negro's legitimate discontent” will not going to end “until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality” (ll.55-57). This passage makes metaphorical clear that the discontent of the blacks burns like a hot summer and it will not come to an end until there is freedom and equality what is compared with the colder autumn.

Followig, King utters that the colored people are not going to surrender until they have their citizenship rights (cf. ll.62-63). He entitles this day as “the bright day of justice” (l.65). Here he uses a second time the light dark contrast.

In the next paragraph King compares justice with a palace whose threshold is worn out (cf. ll.68-69) and this also points out the unequal distribution of civil rights. The fact that at this time the blacks have only a few rights however the threshold is worn, King alludes to the whites who seem to be responsible for this condition.

Martin Luther King refers to his principle of non-violent resistance because people may in principle not become violent trying to apply for rights.

Whith these words King clarifies that they aren't allowed to defend themselves against the injustice of racial segregation with violence. Otherwise they would stoop to the level of their enemies and wouldn't be in the ascendancy over them anymore.

Through the epigram “we cannot walk alone” (l.84) King clarifies that the colored people are in some sense dependent on the whites who also give rise to injustice although they are not affected.

By repeating the words “we cannot be satisfied” (ll.88,91,94,96.98101,102) in an anaphor King extendes his list of reasons why its worth fighting and the anaphor also illustrates the discontent that has spreas among the blacks.

King illustrates by this quote that even in the Bible it is spoken of justice and righteousness.

Subsequently, he refers to the conditions of the audience (cf. ll. 104-109) and calls them “veterans of creative suffering” (ll.109-110). Thereby he wants to tell them that after their resistance there will be an improvement to their situation.

By repeating “go back” (ll.112-116) several times, he talks to everybody, those from “Mississippi” should feel addressed even like those from “Georgia” or any other state and place in the United States. This emphasizes the unity.

The personal language “my friends” (l. 118) is supposed to make clear that the people can rely on King and his aims. He really wants to change the situation and life for everybody in a positive way.

The principle is: “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal” (ll.122-124)

Now begins the anaphora “I have a dream” (ll.121,125,129,132,136,143) King's speech finally was named for. By the metaphor “table of brotherhood” (ll.127-128) King makes clear that he hopes that an alliance between the different parties arises. King also mentions the “children” (l. 132) with regard to the future generations who should already live in equality.

In the next paragraph King describes another change he is hoping for. He wants that one day in Alabama where “vicious racists” (l.137) live and where the “governor” almost exclusively speaks of “interposition and nullification” (ll.137-138) black and white children living there shake hands.

In the next part of the speech King compares the society with a country full of hills and valleys. Another part of his dream is the desire to see how these hills and valleys become more and more removed so that after a while a flat plain is created (cf. ll.143-148).

He hopes that the social differences may waste away in order that all irregularities are leveled.

Then King resorts once more to the Bible and quoted: “And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together” [Isaiah 40:5 (ll.146-148)].

Again, King uses several metaphors. He says that with the belief in justice the blacks are able to “hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope” (ll.151-152). With this sentence he emphasizes again the size of the despair of colored people however hewing hope from this desperation is also possible even if it has not nearly the size of the despair.

By mentioning the word “together” (ll.155-158) several times he makes the community and the growing acceptance clear which he anticipates.

In the next section King explains the goal of the efforts because America would only be a “great nation” (l.163) if it can be seen as a land of freedom for all people.

For that reason, he requests to let freedom ring in all possible areas of America and emphasizes this request by the use of the anaphora “let freedom ring” (ll.164,166,168,170,172,174,175,177).

All the conflicting groups would tolerate each other and shake hands as a sign of friendship and acceptance when this ring of freedom happens. The oppressed would be freed and could live out their faith and their own free will without racial restrictions.



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