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Diction in “Letter from Birmingham Jail” and “Strange Fruit”

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    There are many uses of diction in “Letter from Birmingham Jail” and “Strange Fruit.” In “Letter from Birmingham Jail” there are very contrasting uses of diction compared to “Strange Fruit.” Diction in “Letter from Birmingham Jail” being visible in some quotes including “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 personality.” Words such as “degrades,” distorts,” or “damages” are used to show emphasis on the unjust emotions created by laws.

    Also, the word “statue” is used to show that the law will not change on its own and must be changed by people who have a different mindset than the current set of legislatures. Diction of this type can be interpreted from “Strange Fruit” also in lines such as “The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth, scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh then the sudden smell of burning flesh.” Words such as “bulging,” or “sudden” are used to show the emotion of the abrupt change or the intensity of the extremity being described with the words “bulging eyes and twisted mouth.” In contrast, diction in “Letter from Birmingham Jail” can be interpreted as trying to break the stereotypical feeling of unintelligent African-Americans of the time allowing King to create emphasis on the letter overall. “Strange Fruit” uses the interpretation of the reader having traveled through the south during the period, or heard of the extremities that are explained in the song.

    “Strange Fruit” also uses diction to emphasize the odd feeling by creating a peaceful setting that turns to a horrifying feeling of disgust after imaging the pictures portrayed in the song. “Letter from Birmingham Jail” provides examples of diction in the line stating, “ So let him march; let him make prayer pilgrimages to the city hall; let him go on freedom ride- and try to understand why he must do it.” which is used to portray power behind the words of King, and provide options for potential protesters to choose and interpret in their own way based on previous lines in the letter, which can be interpreted in “strange fruit” in the lines “Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze, Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.” Diction can also change based on the audience in which something is being written for, which is apparent in Kings “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” as he is writing to the clergymen who previously wrote to him. This is not apparent in “Strange Fruit” as it is not easily distinguishable whom the song was written toward.

    Word choice is the main portion of the uses of diction, and King has used words such as “fellow” or “dear” to place himself on the same level as the clergymen, and establish trust with them, whereas “Strange Fruit” uses diction to provide vivid and sudden imagery to the listener’s interpretations while listening or reading. Lastly, diction is used in various ways across the board in both texts. “Letter from Birmingham Jail” uses diction to level the playing field with King and the reader while also allowing him to create trust with the reader. King also uses diction to break stereotypes given during the time period to African-Americans such as unintelligence, or superiority of other races. “Strange Fruit” can be interpreted as using various forms of diction to create the imagery of the atrocities committed in southern states against African American people due to the relationship they had with other races at the time and past relationships of their ancestors. “Strange Fruit” can also be interpreted as potential a poetic writing that was transitioned into a song.

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    Diction in “Letter from Birmingham Jail” and “Strange Fruit”. (2021, Dec 13). Retrieved from

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