MLK depicted gruesome imagery throughout his letter in order to force the white clergymen to feel the Negros pain. For instance, he mentions how Negros have tried many times to negotiate, and were left with ‘Broken promises, blasted hopes.’(King) Whites had always told the Negros to wait, that their segregation will end eventually. MLK describes the word ‘wait’ as it “rings in the ear of every Negro with a piercing familiarity,” (King), “It’s easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say ‘wait’.”(King) MLK’s choice of poignant wording to describe the Negros pain and suffering is effectively what helps deliver those feelings onto the white clergymen. While gruesome imagery is placed throughout his letter, MLK also dedicates an entire section of his letter solely to gain their understanding. “When you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters with impunity; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you ...
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... therefore concur with you in your call for negotiation. Too long has our beloved Southland been bogged down in a tragic effort to live in monologue rather than dialogue.” (King) As MLK explains his purpose for direct action, he gives his reason, then leaves an emotion-provoking remark. No one wants to live in monologue as opposed to dialogue. The pathos remark he leaves is impossible to argue with, which is persuasive in that it forces you to follow his way of thinking.
All in all, pathos is by far the most persuasive rhetorical device in MLK’s letter from Birmingham Jail. It is clear that he uses pathos as his most potent tool for persuasion. Be it a way to depict gruesome imagery, a way to supplement his call to action, or as an enhancement for both his ethos and logos arguments, his strategic use of pathos is what drove the letter’s meaning to the hearts of many.
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