Do more than dream: My analysis of MLK “I have a dream speech”

by: Kelly (Kasper) Blake

Martin Luther King Jr delivers his “I have a dream” speech to a mixed crowd of whites, blacks and civil rights activists fighting for the rights of blacks. He speaks in an even tone using metaphors that people can relate to on an everyday basis. He also includes his children in the speech because he wants to appeal to the parental aspect of everyone in the crowd. He speaks in a repetitive manner, which emphasizes a pattern and increases the effect of what he is trying to say. His speech speaks of the past, present, and future. He speaks of what was, “But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free.” What is, “It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned.” And what hopefully will be, “one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.”

King uses logos, ethos, and pathos to further the theme of his “I have a dream” speech. “We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline.” “I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.” And “We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality.” I believe that King’s speech weighs heavily on emotion because emotions naturally drive people.

King’s pitch is consistent throughout his speech with a flat rate, and he adjusts his volume to emphasize his words and hold attention. His body language and pauses allow the audience to absorb the meaning of his words. King catches his audience’s attention by allowing his volume to rise and fall at the appropriate times, and his topic is consistent. He also targets the audience’s emotions and personal experiences. He includes everyone in his fight for freedom.

The use of metaphors in King’s speech is vital in driving his point home to all races in the crowd. A compelling example is “America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked insufficient funds.” and, “We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation.” King uses repetition effectively at the end of his speech with “I have a dream,” it drives his point home. The part of his speech that is the most impactful to me is “With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.” The reason it impacts me is that I desire a more unified world, where my children and grandchildren will be accepted regardless of their skin color.

King’s speech attracts so much attention because he speaks about things that others are afraid to confront head-on. The reason this speech is still crucial to this day is that we haven’t reached the level of freedom for all people that he dreamed about so many years ago. Coretta King says that he wrote his speech when he arrived in Washington, and he retired early to his room to write and pray[1]. Periodically King would ask people in the hotel room for words that described what he wanted to say, but overall, the words were his. He knew he needed to be precise and impactful because the future of his children and other people’s children would be impacted by what he was about to say.


[1] Behind the story recollection of Coretta King, UsMagazine

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