Comparing Letter from a Birmingham Jail and Civil Disobedience Essay

Comparing Letter from a Birmingham Jail and Civil Disobedience Essay

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Martin Luther King and Henry David Thoreau each write exemplary persuasive essays that depict social injustice and discuss civil disobedience, which is the refusal to comply with the law in order to prove a point. In his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” King speaks to a specific audience: the African Americans, and discusses why he feels they should bring an end to segregation. Thoreau on the other hand, in “Civil Disobedience,” speaks to a broader, non-addressed audience as he largely expresses his feelings towards what he feels is an unjust government. Both essays however, focus on the mutual topics of morality and justice and use these topics to inform and motivate their audience to, at times, defy the government in order to establish the necessary justice.
Although Thoreau and King both correspondingly address these topics of morality and justice throughout their essays, their essays are in no way similar in writing styles, tones, and/or goals. King speaks to his readers about the injustice that is being served to African Americans specifically. He uses an emotional appeal as he pleads his readers to take action to end segregation. This emotional appeal combined with his optimism for freedom sets him and his writing different from that of Thoreau’s. Thoreau’s essay on the other hand, is largely critical of the unfair American Government. Unlike King, Thoreau worriedly speaks to his readers in a distressed, aggravated tone as he reprimands them for following unjust laws. Thoreau’s essay is also different from King’s because he presents more than one goal. Not only does he describe the government’s unfair laws, but he also teaches his readers how and why to revolt, and tells them to bring an end to the ongoing M...


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...goals, they both discuss similar topics of morality and justice under a government’s rule. In hopes of informing and motivating people, Thoreau and King explain how and why these people should take non-violent action towards unjust laws. From each author’s vivid examples and brilliant analogies, we learn the importance of fighting for justice and maintaining morality. Most importantly, Thoreau and King argue in favor of civil disobedience not only to inspire a fight for freedom from the government, but also to ensure that the people’s God given rights and rights to individuality are preserved for generations.



Works Cited

King, Martin L. "Letter from a Birmingham Jail [King, Jr.]." Letter to Fellow Clergymen. 16 Apr. 1963. African Studies Center. University of Pennsylvania, n.d. Web.

Thoreau, Henry D. "On the Duty of Civil Disobedience." 1849. Letter

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