Analysis of I Have a Dream Speech
Analysis of “I Have a Dream”
On August 28th, 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered a speech to over 100,000 people during the March on Washington. King’s speech was one of the most influential during the era of the Civil Rights Movement and is to this day recognized as a very memorable masterpiece due to its effect on the audience. Many components went into this passionate speech that portrayed King’s hopes for racial equality. It is obvious that this speech was written not only to motivate the audience but to establish an equal ground for everyone that was present. Martin Luther King Jr.’s eloquent language was perfectly suited to his audience, both white and black people of all educational levels were present, and his carefully chosen words helped to shape one of the most touching speeches ever spoken in history. King’s speech was both easy for everyone to comprehend as well as gave a neutral basis that everyone could relate to at one point or another. For these reasons this speech remains to be one the best in history.
On the day of his speech, King spoke to thousands of people from many backgrounds. Many black as well as white people had the good fortune to hear him speak and he referred to them all as “my friends” (443). These two words made King’s speech enduring to everyone. It was a welcoming gesture that was meant to show that both the audience and King were positioned on the same level. Although they came from varying levels of education and economic statuses, King’s immediate listeners all shared a common dream, racial equality. By speaking to everyone as “his friends” (443), King was already pushing the notion that they were all the same. Friends tend to be of the same status and have respect for one another, King showed that although he was black and oppressed, he still was on the same level as, and had respect for his white oppositionists.
The audience who heard “I Have a Dream”, is exactly the audience that the speech was intended to be spoken to. Martin Luther King, Jr. did not only relate to the oppressed African Americans in his speech. He did not bring up the wrongs that had been performed between white and black abolitionists, nor did he place any blame on white Americans in any way. By doing this he spoke to everyone hoping for a chance, by making it clear that racial equality was everyone’s fight. By not attacking the opponents of his beliefs and dream, King set up a chance to perhaps open up their minds to views they may not have considered had they been forced to be defensive due to attacks aimed at their own beliefs. This decision to not place blame showed extreme integrity on King’s part. By focusing on the ideas that racial equality could bring about excellent effects in the future instead of referring back to the violence and disparity that has commenced, the audience could not help but feel empowered in such a way that did not bring about hostility. It was a speech meant to bring on equality in a very peaceful manner.
King was aware that aside from racial discrepancies regarding the differences in his audience, those he spoke to had varying levels of education due to economic or social reasoning. In order to speak clearly into the hearts of the majority, King knew that he would have to speak in a way such that most people could clearly understand him. For this reason, King’s speech was of a simpler language that was easy to comprehend by all. In a sentence such as this: “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”(443), King is able to express his passions and hopes that in the future his children will no longer be labeled by how they look, but rather be viewed in the same way white people are, by their attitudes and the way in which they act. This sentence is concise yet clearly displays his emotions in a way that is subjective and not difficult to understand.
Martin Luther King, Jr.’s language was well supported by his diction. Many words were repeated in his speech that expressed what King’s followers were fighting for; freedom. “I have a dream…”(443-444) was repeated constantly towards the end of King’s speech. Dream and freedom were the most utilized words in the speech and by repeating these words frequently, King sends the message to his audience that these are his visions for the future and these are the things that will be attained when the end to racial segregation is apparent. When King uses the word dream or freedom in a line of his speech he generally makes a reference to something that his audience can relate to. An example would be when King says, “I have a dream that one day even in the state of Mississippi… the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice” (443). In this line of the speech whites as well as blacks could feel a connection to the ideas of freedom and justice, thus bring about another feeling of equality.
In the speech “I Have a Dream”, Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. made several references to God and religion. The usage of references to God and religion in his speech were due to his background and way of life. King also knew that the majority of his listeners were active followers of God and thus by speaking of religion, he could have the ability to strike the strings of his audience and better captivate them in the movement once they felt that it was a movement supported by God. Many of his oppositionists were god-fearing people and thus by portraying the image that God and his beliefs, it helped to send out the image that God did not support racial segregation or its followers. Most people would agree God is a teacher of love and kindness. Undoubtedly King knew that this one idea could possibly make some rethink the stances they previously held regarding racial equality.
The speech given by Martin Luther King, Jr. to the African Americans and to the white Americans in the August of 1963 was undoubtedly a motivator for many. It is no wonder why a vast majority of people living in the United States can recite words from the speech of a now deceased man. King’s legend will live on forever. King’s message was universal and had a meaning to all who heard it. This continues today. Freedom and equality are something to be attained, for all of us.
King, Martin Luther, Jr. “I Have a Dream.” One Hundred Great Essays. Ed. Robert DiYanni. 2nd. Ed. New York: Pearson, 2005. 440-44.