King Zoom mini-lecture and discussion

In King’s letter is a wonderful example of raw rhetorical skill. In this context, “rhetorical” simply means “persuasive.” Consider King’s audience, his purpose, his immediate context (sitting in a jail cell for parading without a permit”). He is writing in response to criticism that his activities in Birmingham are both poorly-timed and inappropriate (because King isn’t from Birmingham).

In his letter, King uses a number of highly effective rhetorical strategies. One that you may have noticed is repetition. You know from watching the documentary that King was primarily a public speaker, and that by training and upbringing, King was a preacher. Repetition can be powerful when delivering a speech, and we see the influence of King’s vocation on his writing style. King also uses logos, ethos, and pathos frequently and effectively throughout his letter. Keeping all of this in mind, complete the discussion activity below.

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Read Martin Luther King, Jr’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”

1. Find one example each of logos, ethos, and pathos from King’s letter. In your reply, for each quotation, paste the quotations from the letter, followed by an explanation of which rhetorical appeal your quotation represents.
2. Look at how King opens and closes his letter. Keeping in mind that King is responding to harsh criticism, why do you think King chooses to open/close his letter as he has done? Explain.
3. What do we learn about strong writing from reading King’s letter? What specific techniques can we borrow from King to make our own writing more effective in terms of rhetorical force? In this context, “rhetorical force” is a measurement of a text’s persuasiveness.

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