Not surprisingly, Martin Luther King’s amazing “I Have A Dream” speech is still making news. Writer’s Relief, a favorite site of mine, analyzed the speech from a literary angle by identifying eight rhetorical techniques it employs so masterfully and which we might
also benefit from using:
Alliteration: King took full advantage of the music of language. One of the primary forms of lyricism he used to great effect was the repetitive use of letters and sounds. Example: Rise from the dark and desolate…the marvelous new militancy…trials and tribulations…
Allusion: The speech uses shared, emotionally laden references. Example: References and quotes from “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee” and “Free at Last.”
Amplification: References are made twice in a row, with greater emphasis or details, the second time. Example: America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.”
Antithesis: Using contrasting language. In the following, King places color/content and skin/character side by side, showing radically different ways of seeing the world. Example: I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
Conduplicatio: Repetition of a word/phrase, often at the beginning of a series of sentences/phrases. Example: Sentences with “I have a dream.”
Litotes: Using understatement and a double negative, King captures attention. Example: I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations.
Metaphor: Comparisons that stir emotions. Example: [The Emancipation Proclamation] came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity. Example: We will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.
Parallelism: With parallel phrasing, King builds his message with memorable rhythm. Example: We will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together…
What beautiful, stirring language! So much of this glorious speech is sheer poetry — wedding eloquence and heart. Surely something to strive for as we all write on.