Rhetorical Analysis





Rhetorical Analysis

In the process of writing literary content, it is important to mull over the best way to deliver the message. Consequently, one has to examine the target audience, their level of understanding, as well as other aspects. The three literary styles commonly used in most literature are ethos, pathos, and logos. These three each have a role to play in ensuring that the message is driven home. Examining the way in which the ethos, logos, and pathos appeals are used in a famous historical writing will generate sufficient understanding into the best way to write effective content. For the purpose of this essay, The Letter from Birmingham Jail written by Marin Luther King will be used.


Ethos focuses on the character and therefore, analyzing this type of appeal in the letter from Birmingham will concentrate on evaluating the level of trustworthiness in the author, Martin Luther King. It will address the utilization of ethos appeal (O’Reilly, and Stooksbury 67). King starts the essay with the salutation in which he appears, trustworthy, moral, and credible. When he greets the audience by referring to them as “My dear fellow clergymen,” it is clear he intends to earn their respect. His use of the ethos appeal created a sense of equality. In the process of identifying the usage of ethos, it is imperative to note that this type of appeal concentrates on the individual. It brings out the personality and nature of the author compared to the rest of the qualities. In the course of the letter, the reader encounters another instance in which Dr. Martin Luther King attempts to push his argument using ethical appeal. In his letter, King successfully attempts to attract the attention and respect of his audience by referring to them as “good people”. King writes “…but since I feel that you are men of genuine good will and that your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I want to try to answer your statement in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms.” In his quest to convince his follower of the need for change, he respectfully points out that legal approaches have seldom worked. King appeals to the ethical side of his audience by dismissing the unjust laws when he says “…one may well ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust.” The following section discusses the pathos appeal and its usage in Dr. King’s letter.


According to the definition, pathos refers to suffering or experiences, and it appeals to the audiences’ feelings. Pathos is typically characterized by personal stories, vivid descriptions, and sensory-based particulars. In this way, pathos appeal introduces a human aspect to the story. Therefore, while logos affect the reader’s mind, pathos is concerned with the heart (O’Reilly, and Stooksbury 72). In the analysis of the letter from Birmingham Jail, several instance of the use of pathos emerge. DR. King explains the state of racial segregation and its effect on the African-society using a vivid description. He writes ‘…when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park… when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children”. It is difficult to process the level of pain, discomfort, and disappointment in King’s words in the excerpt. Many of the readers relate to king’s personal story of a parent explaining the concept of injustice. Pathos appeal is a useful strategy that can be used to transport the individual from the book to the actual experience. It recreates a real-life experience of what transpired. Not all aspects of the pathos appeal to be depressing. Numerous other uses of the appeal have been found in humor. Dr. King also uses the pathos appeal to show the audience the long awaited emancipation of the African American race in the United States (Stobaugh 67). He claims that the blacks “… have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God-given rights”. This makes the whole race appear highly subjected to injustices for a long time. The whole point of applying the pathos appeal is to touch the human side of the audience. It is also important to add that not all emotions have to be dark and tragic. Dr. King uses other types of emotions to deliver his message. For instance, he uses peace, happiness, contentment, and serenity in his letter to offer the readers hope for a better future.


Logos can be defined as the usage of logic or reasoning in the presentation of an issue to improve the appeal of the message. In a literary context, the logos appeal comprises words, the precision of the message, the reliability of the message and the supporting evidence within the text in question. In the letter from Birmingham Jail, there are numerous instances of Dr. King using logos appeal. He uses the logos appeal in his organization of a non-violent social campaign against injustices (Stobaugh 21). His four-step strategy involves the collection of the facts to establish instances of injustices, negotiation, self-purification, and direct action. In this scene, Dr. King outlines a logical structure that can be applied to any other social campaign. He says “…I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my home town. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid”. Dr. King uses a logical argument that holds sway with the religious audience: clergy members of the Christian religion. It is imperative to note that logos must be a logical argument that makes sense to the target audience. King’s logos in this section might not necessarily appeal to a different audience (Seyler 56).


Dr. Martin Luther King was a scholar and a minister who possessed an incredible gift of oratory and literary delivery. The analysis of “A Letter from Birmingham Jail” offered the following conclusions. One, the document contained an insatiable amount of ethos, pathos, and logos appeal. Dr. King used these three aspects to bring out the extent of the racial segregation, economic imbalance and other injustices perpetrated against the black race. In this specific analysis, the three forms of appeal common in writing are used (Stobaugh 45). Ethos refers to the individual character, knowledge, and integrity of the author. Logos appeal concentrates on knowledge and reasoning that utilizes substantial evidence to deliver a message while pathos appeal uses detailed descriptions, story, and emotions. It is clear that each of the appeals is valid in its right and can be applied independently (O’Reilly, and Stooksbury 89). However, using all three in a single piece of writing can dramatically improve the quality and effect of the writer.


Works Cited

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King, Martin L. Letter from the Birmingham Jail. San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1994. Print.

O’Reilly, Stacey, and Angie Stooksbury. Common Core Reading Lessons: Pairing Literary and Nonfiction Texts to Promote Deeper Understanding. 2014. Print.

Seyler, Dorothy U. Read, Reason, Write: An Argument Text and Reader. Boston: McGraw-Hill Higher Education, 2010. Print.

Stobaugh, James P. Handbook for Literary Analysis: How to Evaluate Prose Fiction, Drama, & Poetry. Cork: BookBaby, 2012. Print.

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