Reflection on King’s “Letter From a Birmingham Jail”
The document “Letter from a Birmingham jail” written by Martin Luther King Jr. is an eloquent one, expressing the pain of Afro-American people of the twentieth century. The author aims at reaching a broad audience consisting of moderate white people. During his appeal, he constantly mentions “white brothers” and claims the outright Ku Klux Clan members and counselors supporting segregation are out of his reach since they are morally invalid. Then, the cry of the black man is addressed to those who can understand his claims and review their misconceptions and prejudices.
Next, King’s writing is aimed to be persuasive and contains crucial elements of such a text. First, he attempts to establish ethos by invoking Christian morality. Namely, he discusses the nature of unjust laws contradicting the universal humanistic laws and cites medieval scholars for the definition of injustice. Second, an appeal to the audience’s emotions is made by reciting numerous sufferings of the black population under a discriminative regime. As such, King describes the anger felt after being rejected in public and the desperation he experiences after explaining to his children the reason for negative feelings towards their race. Finally, he is explicit in logically grounding the protests in which he participated. He articulates that negotiations produce no results while injustice is of an intolerable extent. The example of a robbed person and a robber is an illustrative argument for defense measures against oppression. Therefore, the makeup of the text is highly productive and convincing.
As it has been noted, the letter’s content is highly concentrated on the concepts of justice and injustice. These ideas are dependent on legal issues; thus, the entire discussion concerns the nature of laws. According to King, a just law is the one that corresponds the God’s Word, that is, encouraging creativity and development of human personalities. In contrast, unjust law fixes degrading moral circumstances and suppresses the productive free activities of certain people. Segregation is an example of unfair law since it assurances the supremacy of one race while disgracing the minorities. This argument seems to be effective due to the invocation of God’s law and humanistic moral values. Hence, justice is treated with appropriate rhetoric in the letter.
Moreover, the text is reasonably exemplar of different kinds of rationales. For example, deductive reasoning is present in the reflections about the objective use of the protests or “direct actions,” as King names them. He begins with defining the just and unjust laws and then deliberately moves to the situation in Alabama, a specific topic after general discussion. Furthermore, inductive reasoning can be seen in the arguments about extremism. The author firstly describes the particular situation in the US, and his personal experience, after which he recounts the numerous cases of other influencing persons’ “extremists” actions. Next, he derives the general “theory” of the extremism of love and non-violent action against injustice. Then, it is apparent that the letter contains well-coined examples of two reasoning manners.
The most important question as to the letter is the motivation of Martin Luther King Jr. It is likely that the goal he persuaded lies in revealing the most unbearable conditions under which the black population had lived in the twentieth century. The author wanted to deliver a message to the audience that could comprehend it and be sensitive to his emphatic efforts. The arguments of King are highly influential and powerful since his use of rhetorical strategies moves religious, educated, and morally concerned people.