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I Have a Dream Analysis


Martin Luther King’s speech “I Have a Dream” has stood the test of time as one of the most inspiring and greatest speeches ever given. More than five decades ago, the author of this speech electrified Americans across the country with the historic ‘I Have a Dream’ speech that was dramatically delivered at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. Martin Luther’s soaring rhetoric demanding for integrated society as well as social justice served as a mantra for the African Americans in the country, and remains quite relevant to the subsequent generations many years after the speech. The words of the eloquent orator proved to be a touchstone in understanding political as well as social upheavals of the time, giving the United States a vocabulary for expressing such happenings.

            The main catch in the speech, which could also serve as its theme was in the postulation that “all men are created equal” which may not have been evident among the Americans at the time but the King was convinced that in the future days to come, the reality of equality would be felt across the different states of the United States of America. To him, the reality of equality of all people could not be bargained but a truth that was inherently undeniable among all people (Edwards, par. 5).

            Martin Luther employed a number of strategies in writing and delivering his speech, thus making it as outstanding as it has been. Evidently, the words and phrases in the speech were well researched such that they would be effective in sending the message to the hearts of the Americans who suffered from segregation and those who perpetrated such vices. In preparation, Dr. King thoroughly studied the Bible, thus his claim that “all men are created equal” is in line with the biblical teachings (Edwards, par. 7). His claims can be justified by Paul’s letter to the Galatians 3:28 where he views all people as one in Christ Jesus, whether male or female, slave or free, Greek or Jew. Further evidence that the King had studied the bible well is derived from the call of proper judgment based on character as opposed to the color of the subject’s skin. In John 7:24, the apostle discourages making judgments based on the appearance but using the right measures to make judgment worthwhile.

Stylistic Analysis  

Stylistically, the speech qualifies as a work of poetry and a political treatise. The usage of anaphora was very relevant in emphasizing the theme of the speech while increasing rhetorical effect. The repetition of words and phrases towards the beginning of every sentence is a rhetorical device that serves to create a certain pattern, thus playing a very central role of emphasizing the message that the speaker was delivering. In the paragraph that this essay seeks to analyze, the phrase “I have a dream” was repeated in five successive sentences, which serves as one of the most referenced example of anaphora in the study of modern rhetoric. The phrases have remained memorable in the minds of the readers because of their repetition, and by extension, they have made his story more memorable than it would have been without repetitions (Dlugan, par. 9-10).

Beside the repetition of the phrases, King repeated the theme words severally, making it clear to any reader or listener what the whole message was driving at. Although in this particular paragraph the term dream was repeated four times, in the entire speech he repeated the word eleven times, which unmistakably creates an understanding in the reader’s mind that though this is not a present fact, King was looking forward to the day that the dream would become a reality (Dlugan, par. 10).

Martin Luther King employed a very important aspect of speech writing that helps in grounding an argument: use of real and specific examples (Dlugan, par. 14-15). The use of specific examples tends to illustrate how logical an author is in their argument. Some of the specific examples used in this section include Mississippi and Georgia. Throughout the speech, King mentioned Mississippi in four different accounts, not accidently but seeking to evoke strong emotions about the injustices that were happening in this particular region of the country. Additionally, the author used relatively geographic references in the endeavor to make his message more inclusive, such as the red hills of Georgia.

            I have a dream speech also employed metaphors in highlighting the contrasting concepts, which played a very central role in associating the concrete image of the speech to the desired emotions. In highlighting the contrasts between some two abstract concepts, King associated them with contrasting concrete metaphors. For example, in this section of the speech, King contrasted the “sweltering heat of oppression with transformation into an oasis of freedom and justice” (Dlugan, par. 18).

            In his speech, King presented an array of racist acts, from daily ridicules to the psychological cruelties, thereby painting a picture of the United States then. He demonstrated the dangerous side of racism, its preposterous nature highlighting on the need to bring it to an end for a better American society (Boshier 74). He painted Mississippi as a state characterized by racial injustices and oppressions but at the same time showed that all hope was not lost and a time would come when in the same Mississippi, there would be plenty of (oasis) the freedom and justice that were lacking. He also painted the picture of biasness that characterized the state then using the unfair judgmental spirit where people were seen in terms of their appearance (skin color). However, he contrasted this picture by depicting a ray of hope in the future where fairness in perception of others would prevail (judgments based on the content of character) (Boshier 75).

Character Analysis       

The character of Martin Luther King Jr. could easily be derived from the manner in which he delivered his speech. Some of the photos during his speech depict a standing position of a man who was solid and unshakable. He was confident of whatever message he was passing across and was unwavering in his words, but rather used the exact words that would send the exact message that he hopped to communicate. He had the solidity found with persons who completely align their actions with firm commitment. More than two-hundred thousand people present during the Washington rally could have failed if they attempted to push Martin Luther off-track; so solid was King’s conviction that they would not even dare, whether they shared with his sentiments or not. King’s self-belief went beyond external motivations but was deeply rooted in his believe in the future of America characterized by justice and social cohesion (Boshier 72-74).

            Equally important in understanding the character of King is looking at his voice during the delivery of the speech. It takes a commanding voice for a person to be able to inspire thousands as his booming voice was thoroughly practiced as a preacher. The real passion of his speech was made evident and possible by his pacing, preacher-like drama and cadence. King used powerful and evocative language in drawing emotional connection to the persons who had attended the 1963’s Washington rally, such as “this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed” (Ginger Training, par. 5).

            Martin Luther King was able to build an intense speech through the rhythmic repetition of some key words and critical phrases. Each repetition served to build upon the passion that he had displayed in his works. For example, he was deeply convinced that a day is coming when all sorts of injustices and racial discriminations would come to an end. Thus in his speech, he severally repeated the phrase “one day” to demonstrate his deep conviction in the hope for the future when America would be different and enjoying liberties and freedoms that it ought to enjoy devoid of all sorts of discriminations. He was able to connect with his audience, which was very critical in ensuring that the people shared in his emotions, his inclinations, and his attachment to the dream of the future America. While reflecting on the manner in which King delivered the speech, Clarence Jones posited that it was as if Martin Luther King had an out-of-body experience (Ginger Training, par. 10-13).

            Dr. King was a very brave man and did not withhold from speaking the truth in the fear of prosecution. With an audience of 200,000 people, King said what he believed to be true about America and painted the real picture of the present state of affairs in his nation. Although he had been subjected to immense pains, such as unjustified imprisonment and burning down of his house, King did not waiver from the course of justice but continued to fight for what he believed to be right (Jackson 60-61). His brevity character influenced the manner in which he delivered the “I have a dream” speech in Washington. He did not hold back from calling injustices and oppressions from what they really were. He actually went a step further to give examples of regions affected by such injustices and painted the real picture of what the minorities were going through. Through his speeches, King was able to influence many Americans to fight for their rights without using violence and was able to cause a permanent change across the country.

Relevance Today

            Martin Luther King Jr. remains a very important part of America’s history, and has continued to influence many Americans and other people across the globe many years after his death. In the 1950s through 60s, King was perceived as the most dangerous or inflammatory public figure across the United States. He did not waiver, but approached issues of injustices and economy head on. Through his speeches and actions, Luther fought discriminations that were the order of the day against the American minorities, particularly the blacks. His speech in August 1963 continues to influence the behaviors and actions of many Americans, both white and black.

Though delivered more than six decades ago, the speech led to the passing of Civil Rights Act that is still in use among the Americans, stopping all attempts by racists to reignite the fire of Dark Age of racism and discrimination. Many African Americans are enjoying equal treatments and have equal access to various opportunities because of the laws that were propelled by King’s speech. Most Americans keep referring to the speech while speaking about any forms of injustices in the country, especially those that have racial inclinations and encourages the minority to fight for their rights many decades after the delivery of the speech.

            In his speech, Martin called for racial tolerance, positing that all men are created equal. This has played a very critical role in fighting tribalism and ethnic wars across different nations in the world. Many leaders, such as Nelson Mandela of South Africa found the speech highly inspiring in uniting people from different races who had lived in antagonism and conflicts with each other for many years. His role in fighting racism and discrimination and the 1963 speech have made King to be a point of reference in different countries, some naming roads and building monuments in his honor. Students of history across the world use his speech as a point of reference in seeking to understand racism and how to engage in non-violent pursuance of human rights. Many leaders across the world are still using the speech to call for unity in their respective countries between and among persons from different races and ethnicities.

Work Cited

Boshier, Rosa. How to analyze the works of Martin Luther King Jr. New York, NY: ABDO, 2013.

Dlugan, Andrew. Speech Analysis: I Have a Dream – Martin Luther King Jr. 4 December 2010. Web. 25 Feb. 2015. <>

Edwards, Stevie. Analysis of Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech. 6 May 2010. Web. 25 Feb. 2015. <>

Ginger Training. I have a dream speech: Martin Luther King Jr – the anatomy of an inspiring speaker. 2012. Web. 25 Feb. 2015. <>

Jackson, Thomas. From Civil Rights to Human Rights: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Struggle for Economic Justice. Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013.