Letter To Birmingham Jail Rhetorical Analysis Studying Ethos

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The term “outsiders” is used in a quote from the third paragraph of a letter written by eight Alabama clergymen. This label is applied to Martin Luther King, suggesting that he is an outsider. However, in his Letter From Birmingham Jail, King strategically uses appeals to ethos throughout to challenge this characterization as an “outsider” and create a feeling of unity with his intended audiences – the clergymen and the American people.

King uses allusions to both the Bible and specific points in American history to strengthen his character and connect with his audience. He references passages from the Bible and figures within it to identify with the clergymen. Additionally, King makes allusions and references to specific points and people in American history to connect with the people of America. Through these allusions, King demonstrates his practical wisdom and appeals to ethos. Overall, King’s use of allusion throughout his Letter From Birmingham Jail serves to unify his message.

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Paragraph three contains noteworthy allusions, as King mentions biblical figures such as “Jesus Christ” and “the Apostle Paul.” King uses these references to emphasize the story of Paul leaving Tarsus and spreading the word of Christ. In paragraph sixteen, King makes allusions within religion itself, including references to “St. Thomas Aquinas” and “Jewish philosopher Martin Auber.” In paragraph twenty-one, King alludes to the Bible story of Starch, Messiah, and Obtained when he states, “It was evidenced sublimely in the refusal of Starch, Messiah, and”

Obtained to comply with the laws of Nebuchadnezzar, arguing that a higher moral law was involved. One of his final significant references to the Bible appears in paragraph thirty-one, where King states, “Was not Jesus an extremist for love… Was not Amos an extremist for justice… Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian Gospel… Was not Martin Luther an extremist…” Following these allusions, quotes from each of the mentioned figures were provided. In general, these biblical allusions contribute to enhancing King’s character by demonstrating his broad practical knowledge.

Within his letter, King showcases his grasp of both religious values and religious texts, thus enhancing the efficacy of his message and fostering a stronger connection with the clergymen. Notably, he incorporates a few patriotic and political allusions as well. For instance, in paragraph twenty-one he references the Boston Tea Party as a legitimate act of civil disobedience. Moreover, in paragraph thirty-one, he draws upon the example of Abraham Lincoln…

Thomas Jefferson, like Lincoln, exemplified the American standard of pushing the limit and going against the grain. His understanding of American history allowed him to connect with the population through allusions. The Boston Tea Party was a prime example of going against the grain by defying order. Despite his situation being unfavorable, Jefferson pushed for freedom. Similarly, Lincoln defied expectations by granting freedom to slaves, a development that seemed improbable for the United States.

These changes give the impression that King is more American than before, as he has connected with the values that Americans hold close. In addition to allusion, King also uses various rhetorical techniques to appeal to ethos in his letter. For instance, in the introduction, King addresses his audience as “My Dear Fellow Clergymen…”. By doing this, he establishes his own identity. By referring to them as “Fellow Clergymen…”, King suggests that he is also a clergyman, which adds depth to his character beyond being knowledgeable in religion.

In paragraph two, he affirms his association with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, a religious organization with offices in Atlanta, Georgia and operating in every southern state. By doing so, he establishes his piety and acknowledges that he has received authority from God, just like the clergymen. This creates a sense of equality between them.

Creating this identity, King effectively appeals to ethos and establishes a stronger moral character with his audience. This also helps King refute the idea of being an outsider. As part of a larger organization with branches within the state, how can he, a man of the church, be considered an outsider when he was specifically invited here? In paragraph two, it is mentioned: “.. The affiliate here in Birmingham asked us to be on call to engage in a nonviolent direct-action program… So I, along with several members of my staff, am here because I was invited here.” By stating this, King eliminates the concept of him being an “outsider” and instead presents himself as welcome and deserving not to be seen as an outsider. Throughout his letter, King uses simile and metaphor to highlight his inclusive identity and strong moral compass. In paragraph three, after recounting Paul’s departure from Tarsus, King employs a metaphor by saying “.. So am I compelled to carry the gospel Of freedom beyond my own hometown.” Here, King expresses that he feels compelled to follow in Paul’s footsteps for the sake of justice.

This persuades the audience to perceive King as a committed individual willing to go to extreme measures for a cause he deeply values, thereby presenting him as more devout and persistent. Moreover, King employs simile to enhance his portrayal. Specifically, he states, “Like Paul, I must consistently answer the Macedonian call for assistance…” Through selecting the term “consistently,” King implies that he is continuously engaged in work and constantly prepared to aid those who require assistance.

Not only does this display the dedicated, humanitarian side of King, it shows some of his religious practical knowledge, as it is all in reference to the Bible. As King begins to close his letter, he does a few things to really cap off his character. The first thing he does is he demonstrates his modesty. His modesty is evident when he writes in paragraph forty-eight “Never before have I written so long a letter. I’m afraid if it is much too long to take your precious time. I can assure you that it would have been shorter had I been writing from a comfortable desk… This last minute use of tabulation, doubting one’s own abilities, makes him seem apologetic almost, for writing such a lengthy letter. But King’s sincere modesty here builds his character in the fact that he has now reduced his audience’s standards, and when they reflect on what they read, they will see that he put a lot of work into the letter and that he actually possesses more skill than he thought.

In paragraph fifty, King focuses on the commonplace of friendship, when he addresses the clergymen one last time before closing out the letter. Here he writes “I hope this letter finds you strong in the faith.”

I hope that the circumstances will soon allow me to meet all of you, not as an integrations or a civil rights leader, but as a fellow clergyman and a Christian brother. By adopting a lighter and more hopeful tone, King demonstrates his desire to develop friendships and transcend the limitations of discussions about civil rights. This bold move displays his respect for his audience and undermines any previous perception of conceit on his part.

King’s effective appeal to ethos is demonstrated through his use of allusions, showcasing his practical wisdom and the deployment of various other rhetorical strategies, such as simile and metaphor. This letter stands as a testament to King’s persuasive abilities. It is remarkable that such success in public speaking could be achieved by King, a black clergymen. The significance of this letter extends beyond imagination, leading to the historic March On Washington where King led a demonstration, with his speech at this event being recorded in history textbooks and studied by future generations for many years to come.

Today, we honor the impact of King on society by commemorating him with a holiday. His speeches and writings continue to emphasize his contributions to the civil rights movement. We dedicate a day to reflect on King’s legacy and rejoice in his accomplishments. When considering influential figures in America, Martin Luther Ginger should be remembered. Despite being seen as an outsider, he utilized his talent to refute any belief that he and others should be categorized as such.

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Letter To Birmingham Jail Rhetorical Analysis Studying Ethos. (2018, Feb 04). Retrieved from


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