Example of Rhetorical Analysis: King's "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" (2023)

Martin Luther King Jr. wrote the letter in a persuasive tone, calling for a stand against racial inequality. The target group consists of racist white supremacists and victims. King uses different instances of ethos to show readers his credibility. He introduces himself formally and then connects with historical figures. King also uses pathos to trigger readers' emotions. He points out some common forms of racism and possible consequences if the system is not reformed. In turn, King uses logos to justify his actions. He gives several reasons that demystify the true meaning of just and unjust laws. The overview of rhetorical appeals along with King's ability to follow the crowd highlights this example of rhetorical analysis of MLK's "Letter From a Birmingham Jail" among others.

Table of Contents

(Video) “Letter From Birmingham Jail” Rhetorical Analysis | Free Essay Sample

  1. introduction
  2. Summary of King's "Letter From a Birmingham Jail"
  3. Ethos
    • How to gain credibility
    • Validity of Claims
  4. Pathos
    • violation of human rights
    • threat to equality
  5. Video letter from Birmingham jail
  6. Logos
    • white supremacy
  7. Summary of MLK's "Letter From a Birmingham Jail"
  8. Outline template for rhetorical analysis
  9. references
  10. Useful Articles


"Letter From a Birmingham Jail," written by Martin Luther King Jr. in 1963, describes a protest against his arrest for nonviolent resistance to racism. In the letter, King calls for unity against racism in society while fighting with ethos for human rights. Similarly, King uses pathos to trigger the emotional aspect of readers and tracks his audience to take real action. In addition, King uses various logical explanations to make clear his position and the reasons for fighting white supremacy. The letter has a thoughtful tone and serves to empathize with both the oppressed and those who exploit them. Thus, this rhetorical analysis example of "Letter From a Birmingham Jail" reveals King's literary skills and passion for perceiving equality, which he achieves by employing and avoiding ethos, pathos and logoslogical fallaciesabove all.

Example of Rhetorical Analysis: King's "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" (1)

Summary of King's "Letter From a Birmingham Jail"

In his rhetorical play Letter From a Birmingham Jail, King writes to clergy and shares personal views about his position and racial issues in society. Basically, King is in prison for his visions of how people should live in order to develop a normal community. However, clergymen criticized King's actions and methods to achieve a common good, saying he was wrong. In turn, King responds to clergymen's claims by providing many arguments to support his side. He focuses on moral, emotional, logical, valid, and credible reasons to justify his actions and goals. King is not writing that clergy are wrong, but he thinks the government should be more active in creating positive conditions for people of all races. As a result, King ends his letter by claiming that he is just a human being, like everyone else, who wants to build a better society for everyone. Looking at this synopsis of Letter From a Birmingham Jail, King becomes a legendary figure because his pro-segregation arguments affect not only clergymen, but also others who want to live in a peaceful and equal society.

(Video) Rhetorical Analysis Practice: Letter from a Birmingham Jail


The use of ethos in the letter is very influential. King's introduction of the letter is the first example of the use of ethos. King (1963) states that he earned the title of President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and was able to operate in every southern state in the US country. Here King creates a moral connection with the readers and establishes himself as a man of authority. The use of words like "president" and "all" describes the organization's status as trustworthy and credible, which reinforces the appeal of the ethos.

How to gain credibility

King was a remarkable speaker and knew the perfect combination ofrhetorical mediumto convince his audience. In the letter he references many notable figures to provide a basis for the purpose of his writing. For example, King (1963) compares himself to the apostle Paul, who embarked on a journey to spread the message of Christianity throughout Greece and Rome. However, Paul's story is not the only influence King uses in his letter. King (1963) also names various prominent figures in his letter, such as St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Augustine, John Bunyan, Martin Luther and even Jesus Christ. Additionally, King stalks his audience in a distinctive way to make them believe he wants to bring about revolutionary change. This expected change is big enough to make it into the history books and has enough impact to be recognized by many people.

Validity of Claims

References to such instantly recognizable characters are excellent examples of ethos in this work of literature. King seems to understand that his whole reasoning and appeal are weaker. If King (1963) cannot provide a substantial threshold for revolution, he conjures. So King's use of such historical elements to create a comparable point for his credibility. His intention is very exquisite, while obvious appeals can serve as a good example, because they can draw an analogy and also analyze their works much better.


King makes the human rights situation clear. He was jailed for "violating a court order" during his anti-racism protest in Birmingham in 1963. He was also placed in solitary confinement by various authorities. He even denied his rights to the phone call (Snyder, 2013). In addition, King arouses serious emotions in readers. In protest at this outright hijacking of basic human rights by Birmingham clergymen, King (1963) writes with pathos about such manipulative problems with law enforcement. He recognizes that the need for authorization is not a problem. In return, King expected the authorities to intervene, since he knew about the law.

(Video) Martin Luther King jr, Rhetorical Analysis

violation of human rights

King argues that detaining members and treating them violates human rights. His testimony was justified as the protest was non-violent and the police violated human rights (Snyder, 2013). In addition, this statement is an important message for the target group. Furthermore, King (1963) noted that African Americans have long waited to gain their human rights. The acts and situation of racism were a direct violation of a nation's law as well as God's law. He makes it clear that the lack of rights violates democracy and the constitution, while blacks deserve “God-given” rights (King, 1963). Every democratic country grants its citizens freedom of speech, provided actions do not violate legal limits. Nonetheless, King argues that the human rights situation contradicts the definition in the Constitution.

threat to equality

King tries to convince the reader to understand the magnitude of this human rights situation. According to King (1963), his presence in Birmingham meant that the human rights situation there was miserable and his arrest by local authorities proved his point. In the same way, he has also used pathos extensively against white supremacy. In his appeal to blacks to fight racism, King (1963) writes about the lives of African Americans and highlights poverty and abuse. Blacks do not receive the most privileges and cite their backwardness as a consequence. Therefore, this statement appeals exclusively to Black people on an emotional level. Using pathos in the example of rhetorical analysis can easily help people understand the concept of emotional appeals.


The letter contains various logical explanations. King, who is an influential speaker, has added many rational appeals to his work. One of the logics in his letter is his reasoning on the definition of "unjust" law. King (1963) provides a definition of such laws and examples of how they are enforced, using general logic to decipher how discrimination exists in society without encountering logical fallacies. He uses the example of just and unjust laws. According to him, the law people must obey and the law used to arrest him are different, and it is simply a form of the "unjust law" in action.

white supremacy

As a result, the white supremacist majority defines the law with their advantage in mind. Furthermore, King (1963) states that it is a bad thing that white supremacists leave Negroes with no choice but to oppose them. In turn, whites discriminate against African Americans, treating them as a minority and denying them their basic rights, which are granted to them by the Constitution and by God Himself. King (1963) justifies his presence in Birmingham by writing that he and his friends are "invited" to the prison and satirically highlights the injustice. Additionally, King is very thoughtful in his letter, adding emotional appeals after logical ones to deliver the messages needed. King made it clear that resistance was emerging. There was no other way to solve the problem and the example of rhetorical analysis proved that using rhetorical appeals can be helpful in conveying such a message.

(Video) Rhetorical Analysis of Letter from Birmingham Jail

Summary of MLK's "Letter From a Birmingham Jail"

In summary, the right use of ethos, pathos and logos, combined with a thoughtful tone and King's passion, sets the letter apart as both a superb piece of literature and a motivating message. Ethos also establishes King as a man of trustworthiness. He wants readers to know that he wants a change big enough for the story. King uses emotional appeals to reflect the pitiful human rights situation and says his presence in Birmingham jail is in desperation. Likewise, King makes excellent use of logos to justify the government's rogue status. So the letter is an appeal to those who want change and a warning to those who resist it. This example of rhetorical analysis, summed up by the analysis of King's "Letter From a Birmingham Jail", in turn explains how rhetorical strategies can be used to improve the message to the people nationally and bring social change to life . So this example can be goodExample of a rhetorical analysisto continue learning how to write such essays on literary works.

To write a rhetorical analysis, use this outline:


(Video) Rhetorical Analysis—Daniel Hansen


Fulkerson, R.P. (1979). The Public Letter as Rhetorical Form: Structure, Logic and Style in King's Letter From Birmingham Jail.Quarterly Journal ofSpeech,65(2), 121-136. doi:10.1080/00335637909383465

King, M.L., Jr. (1963). The Negro is your brother.The Atlantic Month,212(2), 78-88.

Snyder, J.A. (2013). Fifty Years Later: Letter from Birmingham Jail. Retrieved from https://newrepublic.com/article/112952/martin-luther-king-jrs-letter-birmingham-jail-fifty-years-later


What rhetorical appeals are used in Letter from Birmingham Jail? ›

In the letter, King appeals for unity against racism in society, while he wants to fight for Human Rights, using ethos. Similarly, King uses pathos to trigger the emotional aspect of readers and pursues his audience to take real actions.

What is the rhetorical situation in Letter from Birmingham Jail? ›

The last rhetorical situation is subject, as the speaker stated "I am in Birmingham becuase injustice is here" (King, Jr.). This shows that he is in jail because authorities find him doing something "wrong". This supports his purpose because he stands up for what's right without using violence.

What rhetorical strategies did Martin Luther King Jr use in this letter? ›

Martin Luther King Jr., he uses pathos, logos and rhetorical devices such as imagery, sarcasm and biblical allusions to show how his work of nonviolent protests are smart and how Birmingham has violated their civil rights.

What is an example of ethos from Letter from Birmingham Jail? ›

Also, in the Letter from Birmingham Jail ethos is seen at the start of another argument: “Just as Socrates felt.” King is trying to expose that he, and his organization, are not the only ones that “see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths ...

What are the 5 rhetorical appeals? ›

  • appeal to purpose. You may want to think of telos as related to "purpose," as it relates to the writer or speaker or debater. ...
  • appeal to credibility. ...
  • appeal to emotion. ...
  • appeal to logic. ...
  • appeal to timeliness.

What rhetorical strategies are used in paragraph 25 of a Letter From Birmingham Jail? ›

Paragraph 25 consists nearly entirely of rhetorical questions, meant to challenge the audience to formulate an answer or solution that negates King's argument. It shows that King is secure enough in his argument at this stage to ask questions such as, "But is this a logical assertion?

What rhetorical strategies are used in paragraph 31 of Letter From Birmingham Jail? ›

The main rhetorical strategies used in paragraph 31 include logos, ethos, rhetorical questions, anaphora, and similes. He uses logos in the first sentence when he discusses being an extremist.

What is the message in the rhetorical situation? ›

evoking an emotion, informing, provoking, offering a new perspective, or influencing a decision). Message: the main idea the speaker communicated to the audience in order to achieve the purpose.

What logical and rhetorical strategies does King most effectively use to refute the argument of the eight Alabama clergymen? ›

In Martin Luther King Jr.'s letter, written to the Clergymen from Birmingham Prison, he uses the rhetorical appeal of ethos to establish his credibility on the subject of racial discrimination and injustice.

What are the 3 rhetorical strategies? ›

Aristotle taught that a speaker's ability to persuade an audience is based on how well the speaker appeals to that audience in three different areas: logos, ethos, and pathos. Considered together, these appeals form what later rhetoricians have called the rhetorical triangle.

What are the 3 rhetorical strategies used in effective arguments? ›

There are three different rhetorical appeals—or methods of argument—that you can take to persuade an audience: logos, ethos, and pathos.

How does Martin Luther King Jr use rhetorical techniques to persuade his audience? ›

King drew on a variety of rhetorical techniques to “Educate, Engage, & Excite” TM his audiences – e.g., alliteration, repetition, rhythm, allusion, and more – his ability to capture hearts and minds through the creative use of relevant, impactful, and emotionally moving metaphors was second to none.

What are 2 examples of ethos? ›

Ethos in your speech or writing comes from sounding fair or demonstrating your expertise, education or pedigree.

What is an example of logos in the Letter from Birmingham Jail? ›


Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality.

Which is an example of ethos from King's speech? ›

How Does Martin Luther King Use Ethos in His Speech? Martin Luther King uses ethos in his speech by discussing his credentials as a Baptist minister and civil rights leader. He also talks about his experience with discrimination and how he has seen the effects of segregation firsthand.

What are the 3 rhetorical appeals and examples? ›

Three Rhetorical Appeals
  • ethos: The rhetor is perceived by the audience as credible (or not).
  • pathos: The rhetor attempts to persuade the audience by making them feel certain emotions.
  • logos: The rhetor attempts to persuade the audience by the use of arguments that they will perceive as logical.

What is rhetoric What are the 3 examples of them? ›

Politicians deliver rallying cries to inspire people to act. Advertisers create catchy slogans to get people to buy products. Lawyers present emotional arguments to sway a jury. These are all examples of rhetoric—language designed to motivate, persuade, or inform.

What rhetorical techniques does Martin Luther King Jr use in his I Have a Dream and why are they effective? ›

In “I Have a Dream”, Martin Luther King Jr. extensively uses repetitions, metaphors, and allusions. Other rhetorical devices that you should note are antithesis, direct address, and enumeration. Rhetorical devices are language tools used to make speakers' arguments both appealing and memorable.

What rhetorical strategies does Alfred M Green use in his speech? ›

In his speech, Alfred M. Green uses alliteration, anaphora, and direct quotes to convince his audience that they should join the Union army. Green uses anaphora extensively in his speech. He says, “it is true” twice and then “let us” multiple times.

What rhetorical device or appeal does Anthony use most effectively in supporting her argument? ›

Logos: Persuasion by Logical Reasoning

Anthony's speeches exhibit logos, as they are structured in a logical sequence of claims, supported with evidence from the most authoritative source on American citizenship: the United States Constitution.

What rhetorical device did MLK use the most? ›

Rhetorical Analysis Of I Have A Dream Speech

Yet his most important method of reaching his audience, and conveying his enduring message of equality and freedom for the whole nation was his appeal to pathos. With these devices, King was able to move thousands of hearts and inspire the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

What rhetorical question did Patrick Henry use? ›

Henry frequently uses rhetorical questions to help guide his argument. He says, “And what have we to oppose to them? Shall we try argument?

What rhetorical devices does Coates use? ›

However, Coates does not just rely on the rhetorical literary tool of pathos in his essay, but he also uses the rhetorical literary tools of ethos and logos as well, although pathos is his primary means of communicating his message.

How do you write a rhetorical analysis example? ›

In writing an effective rhetorical analysis, you should discuss the goal or purpose of the piece; the appeals, evidence, and techniques used and why; examples of those appeals, evidence, and techniques; and your explanation of why they did or didn't work.

What are the 5 elements of a rhetorical analysis? ›

The rhetorical situation can be described in five parts: purpose, audience, topic, writer, and context. These parts work together to better describe the circumstances and contexts of a piece of writing, which if understood properly, can help you make smart writing choices in your work.

What are the 4 rhetorical situations? ›

A rhetorical analysis considers all elements of the rhetorical situation--the audience, purpose, medium, and context--within which a communication was generated and delivered in order to make an argument about that communication.

What rhetorical strategies did King use most effectively to convince his audience that change was necessary? ›

King appeals to the audience by using strong words and repetition. By using repetition of “let freedom ring” and with this faith it helps the audience be reminded of his purpose that change will occur and equality will reign.

What is the most powerful rhetorical appeal? ›

Aristotle argued that logos was the strongest and most reliable form of persuasion; the most effective form of persuasion, however, utilizes all three appeals.

Which rhetorical appeal is King using when he repeats the words I have a dream? ›

I have a dream today! King uses anaphora to highlight the difference between how things are and how he hopes they will be. In fact, anaphora is a rhetorical device often favored by poets … and that's why MLK Jr.'s speech lives among the greatest speeches.

What are the six example of rhetorical? ›

Examples can be quotations, facts, narratives, statistics, details, analogies, opinions, and observations, and examples provide your writing with a firm foundation. Examples can help you avoid generalizations about your subject, and they tend to remove the ambiguity from your writing.

How do you start a rhetorical analysis essay? ›

Like all essays, a rhetorical analysis begins with an introduction. The introduction tells readers what text you'll be discussing, provides relevant background information, and presents your thesis statement. Hover over different parts of the example below to see how an introduction works.

What are the six examples of rhetorical patterns? ›

  • The Rhetorical Patterns - Organizing Essays for Different Rhetorical Situations.
  • The following pages will provide you with several effective ways of organizing information in your essays. ...
  • Narration | Description | Process | Exemplification | Classification | Comparison and Contrast.

What are the three proofs of a rhetorical analysis? ›

In classical rhetoric, the three modes of rhetorical (or artistic) proof are ethos, pathos, and logos. At the heart of Aristotle's theory of logical proof is the rhetorical syllogism or enthymeme.

Which are the 3 main components of the rhetorical context? ›

The rhetorical situation has three components: the context, the audience, and the purpose of the speech.

What is ethos pathos and logos examples? ›

Ethos is about establishing your authority to speak on the subject, logos is your logical argument for your point and pathos is your attempt to sway an audience emotionally. Leith has a great example for summarizing what the three look like. Ethos: 'Buy my old car because I'm Tom Magliozzi.

What rhetorical strategies does King use in letter? ›

Throughout his whole letter, King used Ethos, logos, and pathos to firmly get his message across while adding rhetorical devices such as repetition, metaphors, and biblical references.

What are the five rhetorical strategies for persuasion? ›

Rhetorical Strategies
  • Analyzing cause and effect. Focusing on causes helps a writer think about why something happened; focusing on effects helps a writer think about what might or could happen. ...
  • Comparing and contrasting. ...
  • Classifying and dividing. ...
  • Defining. ...
  • Describing. ...
  • Explaining a process. ...
  • Narrating.

What rhetorical appeal does Patrick Henry use? ›

Patrick henry uses rhetorical appeals by using God to persuade memebers of the virginia convention to go to war with Britian. He uses pathos, logos, and ethos because he appeasl to peoples emotions and how they feel about going to war with Britain. Henry is a person who fights to get what he wants.

What strategies are used in Letter from Birmingham Jail? ›

Martin Luther King Jr. utilizes ethos, pathos, and logos to appeal to the reader's ethics, emotion, and logic throughout his “Letter from Birmingham Jail” to powerfully persuade his audience to take action to end racial segregation and injustice everywhere.

What rhetorical strategies is Kurt Vonnegut using in his letter? ›

In this letter, Vonnegut effectively persuades McCarthy that burning his books was un-American and wrong by using ethos, pathos, and logos. By appealing to pathos, Vonnegut makes McCarthy reevaluate for his actions. He starts off by saying that he is going to show the reader how real he is.

What are the 4 rhetorical appeals? ›

Rhetorical appeals are the qualities of an argument that make it truly persuasive. To make a convincing argument, a writer appeals to a reader in several ways. The four different types of persuasive appeals are logos, ethos, pathos, and kairos.

How does Henry use ethos? ›

By promising to speak “freely” and “without reserve,” Henry appeals to ethos by establishing himself as an honest, straightforward voice. He also establishes a sense of urgency by rejecting ceremoniousness in favor of plain, direct speaking.

What is the most important message in Letter from Birmingham Jail? ›

It says that people have a moral responsibility to break unjust laws and to take direct action rather than waiting potentially forever for justice to come through the courts.

What are the three main points of the Letter from Birmingham Jail? ›

After countering the charge that he was an “outside agitator” in the body of the letter, King sought to explain the value of a “nonviolent campaign” and its “four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self-purification; and direct action” (King, Why, 79).

What is the main theme of Letter from Birmingham Jail? ›

Racism. Systemic racism throughout the American South is at the heart of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s letter, written in response to criticism of his nonviolent civil rights protest in Birmingham, Alabama.

What are the 7 rhetorical strategies? ›

Rhetorical Strategies
  • Analyzing cause and effect. Focusing on causes helps a writer think about why something happened; focusing on effects helps a writer think about what might or could happen. ...
  • Comparing and contrasting. ...
  • Classifying and dividing. ...
  • Defining. ...
  • Describing. ...
  • Explaining a process. ...
  • Narrating.


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