Martin Luther King's Letter from Birmingham Jail has powerful and complicated rhetorical appeal. The letter addresses the concerns and complaints of the white clergy of the South who question both King's tactics and message during a protest march in Birmingham. However, on a deeper level the letter speaks to the public in general especially the white moderates in the South who have political influence. King uses a mixture of rhetorical appeal. He establishes his credibility and uses personal examples to strengthen the ethos and shows vivid images and emotions reach the pathos appeal. King also lays out a clear logos appeal that addresses such issues as civil disobedience, unjust laws, and the police.
In his letter, King manages to use concrete examples to justify his belief that segregation is unjust. While King's letter is addressed to the white clergymen of Birmingham, it is indirectly pointed at the whites of Birmingham, Alabama. He also uses antithesis to draw out his view on racial issues. Antithesis is used to contrast two ideas to emphasize the writer's point of view. By placing two words that are opposites in a sentence, he brings out effective play-on words to the letter. In the "Letter From Birmingham Jail", King expresses his concern about injustice by stating that "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere" (King.
1). His intricate positioning of words creates a sort of paradox, since the words "injustice" and "justice" are opposites. He shows that two incompatible words can go together and prove that one is affected by the other. Antithesis provides the reader with insight about the two different views and how they can have an effect on each other. King used words of opposite meaning to give more impact on his thought on racial injustice. Another word paradox is brought up when he says that "whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly" (1).
He arranges the words so that they are parallel in meaning. He explains that there is a link between what people do locally and universally. Martin Luther King's use of pathos, ethos, and logos also add to his persuasive techniques. His excellent use of logos is seen when he states that in a nonviolent campaign there are "four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices are alive; negotiation; self-purification; and direct action. We have gone through all of these steps in Birmingham" (1). King is able to present the facts by underlying the nonviolent march that was held and the steps it took to get there.
He was able to show the process the people went through to in order to undergo the brutality of the march. Along with logos, King is able to conquer the level of pathos as well. He uses pathos to directly strike the reader's emotions. He uses a question of a small girl who asks, "Daddy why do white people treat colored people so mean?" (2). King uses an on going sentences to bring the reader in and keep him reading until he can feel the pain of those racially exploited. Martin Luther King Jr. understood the power of ethos well.
He was able to communicate in writing a respect for the subject and the audience. He also showed an intelligence and superior degree of knowledge, which combined to create for him enormous credibility. King calmly explains to several priests, rabbis, and ministers in Birmingham by saying that the eighth century "left their little villages and carried their 'thus saith the Lord' far beyond the boundaries of their home towns; and just as the Apostle Paul left his little village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to practically every hamlet and city of the Greco-Roman world... ". (2). These help to build King's ethical appeal within an audience that is very hostile toward his actions.
By showing his knowledge and tying history to the march in Birmingham he is able to achieve ethos. He uses his words, sentences, and allusions to establish a persuasive letter. King leaves his readers with the solid impression that he is a person of intelligence, virtue and goodwill arguing a just cause. Martin Luther King's use of rhetorical devices such as antithesis, pathos, logos, and ethos in "The Letter from Birmingham", evokes the reader to feel and understand his point of view.