Rhetorical devices: Letter from a Birmingham Jail


is a form of repetition used to emphasize a thought or deepen an impression.


is the union of objects or ideas by their differences.


is a repetition of beginning sounds.
In his letters and speeches, MartinLuther King, Jr. used antithesis, parallelism, and alliteration as effective rhetorical devices.
These devices lend lyrical qualities to prose.

Antithesis, Parallelism, and Alliteration

1. Antithesis
a. Antithesis is the union of objects by their differences
and exhibits that power of mind without which there can be no correct generalization nor accurate analysis. 
b. It is the fruit of accurate observation.
c. It sharpens the outline of the objects, whether material or mental, 
which are at the same time compared and contrasted, and makes an impression of their relative character more vivid than could otherwise be produced.
Upon the degree in which these compared and contrasted points exist, and the vividness with which they are expressed, depend the force and beauty of the antithesis.

2. Parallelism
a. Instead of, or in addition to, the repetition of words, in parallelism there is a repetition of structure.
b. Parallelism is sometimes called “thought-rhythm” because of its lyrical qualities.

is the repetition of some letter or sound at the beginning of two or more words in close or immediate succession.

In the paragraph below taken from King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail, examples of parallelism are highlighted in greenexamples of antithesis are highlighted in blue, and examples of alliteration are highlighted in orange.Note that often the devices are combined.
We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have never yet engaged in a direct-action movement that was “well timed” according to the timetable of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “wait.” It rings in the ear of every Negro with a piercing familiarity. This “wait” has almost always meant “never.” It has been a tranquilizing thalidomide, relieving the emotional stress for a moment, only to give birth to an ill-formed infant of frustration. We must come to see with the distinguished jurist of yesterday that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.” We have waited for more than three hundred and forty years for our God-given and constitutional rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jet-like speed toward the goal of political independence, and we still creep at horse-and-buggy pace toward the gaining of a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. I guess it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say “wait.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick, brutalize, and even kill your black brothers and 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 seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she cannot go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her little eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see the depressing clouds of inferiority begin to form in her little mental sky, and see her begin to distort her little personality by unconsciously developing a bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son asking in agonizing pathos, “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross-country drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”; when your first name becomes “nigger” and your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and when your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never knowing what to expect next, and plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodyness” — then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over and men are no longer willing to be plunged into an abyss of injustice where they experience the bleakness of corroding despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.

#rhetoric  #writing  #English   #ESL   #language arts  #AP Language   #antithesis   #parallelism  #alliteration 
#Martin Luther King, Jr.  #Letter from a Birmingham Jail
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