Pathos, Ethos and other Devices in ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail’

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In 1963 inmate Martin Luther King Jr., confined in a Birmingham Alabama city cell. Many clergymen considered King’s activities as “unwise and untimely”. It was very rare that King even responded to the statements made about his actions or words, but King felt empowered to respond to these statements. Dr. King used several argument strategies to construct a Letter from Birmingham Jail. This letter reached out to not only the clergymen but to the world to explain his actions, and verify that what he did was indeed necessary and perfect timing. Birmingham at this time was a very corrupt place and the sight of many adversities. In the letter, King explained that it was his duty to be in the city. He and many others wanted to resolve these odds, and achieve this by nonviolent action. This included sit ins, protests, marches and speeches for everyone to hear. This was set up by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. This organization was setup in every southern state. Although peaceful, others were arrested for picketing, marching and boycotting. Many of these activists like King, just wanted to make a change for their people.

King used several types of appeals and arguments to prove his side of the story in the letter. To make an appeal to an audience, one usually uses logical appeal or logos. “The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust (p.448).” He grabs the reader’s attention with a fact. One may confuse this statement with a fallacy, but the statement is a truthful logic. This form of logic states facts that support a theory and can be an eye-opener to someone after reading. Such as the story on Adolf Hitler. “We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was 'legal' and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was 'illegal.' It was 'illegal' to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler's Germany. Just because Hitler was supremacy, everything that he did was not necessarily something good for his people. “Even so, I am sure that, had I lived in Germany at the time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers.” If today I lived in a Communist country where certain principles dear to the Christian faith are suppressed, I would openly advocate disobeying that country's antireligious laws.” King meant that he would do anything for his brothers and sisters. He kept to his word and his character would never change. For his fellow men to have switched sides on him and their brothers, shows a change of character.

He also uses emotional appeal by persuading readers through their emotions (pathos). King uses this appeal to try and get readers to vividly see where he is and how he feels in the place he is at. In his first sentence in the beginning of the letter, he makes the reader feel sympathy for him, because he says “While confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent statement calling my present activities 'unwise and untimely.' He allows the readers to see what conditions he is living in and how much free time he had to permit him to read the letters. It also proved how he felt for what they said about him in the letter. Pathos is a way for someone to effectively show how an author feels. , “Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, 'Wait.' But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim

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Pathos, Ethos and Other Devices in 'Letter from Birmingham Jail'. (2020, Nov 18). Retrieved July 21, 2024 , from

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