Literary Devices in Letter from Birmingham Jail

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On April 16, 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. wrote, the now infamous, Letter from Birmingham Jail, which was a response to the eight clergymen who wrote a letter to Martin Luther King Jr. stating that there was racial segregation to be handled, but that it was a job for the courts and law to handle, and not everyday people. In his letter, King supported the idea that injustice was everywhere, and not just in court rooms. He supported his claims by applying anaphora, diction, parallelism, and rhetoric appeals. King uses his words to build trust and reassurance, feeling of emotions and logistics and credibility in his response letter to effectively get his messages across. King most effectively applies these devices by giving an incredible insight as to what African Americans are faced with daily, and the make-up of just and unjust laws in Alabama.

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King uses pathos by giving examples of how poorly Negros were frequently treated while the law watched it happen and did nothing about it. He implies how mothers and fathers were lynched and brothers and sisters are drowned because white men felt like doing it. He states that when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim which causes the reader to feel and experience the brutality that the negro population suffered through (King 4). He uses pathos a second time by referencing a little girl who sees an advertisement for an amusement park that is opening. She begins to cry when sher’s told that she, along with other African Americans, are not allowed to go because the park wont allow colored people to enter (King 4). His descriptions highlight the extent of racism in Montgomery, at the time. His use of pathos in the letter evokes the true emotions that King had for the movement and how much the rebellions meant to him. King wants his child to go to an amusement park without being ridiculed by the white populous. He wishes for his fellow African American families to live without violence. He portrays his message using pathos throughout the letter.

King incorporates diction when he discusses the differences between just and unjust laws. He says that, Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statues are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality (King 4). Kingr’s use of the words degrades, damages, and distort bring an emphasis of negativity that also demonstrates the feelings that King has for the laws in Montgomery. Also, the word statues demonstrate that segregation can never be changed by itself. He is saying that segregation laws will be changed when people step in and make the change happen. His choice of words is important because it gives more description and emotional weight supporting his, and the Negro communityr’s, hatred for the unjust laws and enforcement of those laws. It also brings the reader a sense of understanding as to why MLK is protesting and justifies his reasoning for instigating the protests.

King implies parallelism to instill a sense of understanding to the reader as to why segregation is a big problem in Birmingham. King expresses that, Hence segregation is not only politically, economically, and sociologically unsound, it is morally wrong and sinful (King 5). The parallelism, used in the sentences, allows the reader to easily comprehend Kingr’s argument against segregation. He also applies many adjectives that bring a unique flow to the paragraph. He also mentions sinful in reference to the segregation. This word choice is also effective because it shows that King is a former bishop. Plus, it is directed to the clergymen who wanted to stop him and his protests, in the first place.

King finally uses anaphora to express his disappointment with the white populous and how their harsh treatment led the Negro population to start a rebellion. He reasons that, It is unfortunate that protests are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the cityr’s white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative (King 1). The beginning of both sentences begins with the same word, unfortunate. This is important because it outlines Kingr’s overwhelming disappointment with the circumstances surrounding the protesting, but it also gives the reader a realization that the Negro population has a valid reason to continue to rebel. Plus, the reader will have a feeling of guilt and disappointment in not only the law, but in themselves because they know it is shameful to treat people horribly, especially because they have a different color of skin.

In conclusion, Martin Luther King Jr.r’s response to the eight clergymen made Kingr’s points very clear. It had many uses of literary devices, including those of the rhetoric type. His letter has had a profound impact on history, as well as the civil rights movement. If King didnt write this letter with such passion and energy, then it would have severely hindered the movement entirely.

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Literary Devices In Letter From Birmingham Jail. (2019, May 28). Retrieved January 30, 2023 , from

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