In Letter from Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King Jr. writes to his fellow clergymen about the turpitudes he feels are taking place in Birmingham. He aims to make his audience aware of things he feels are being swept under the carpet. King uses a variety of religious references to get through to his readers. Since religion is sacred to so many, it is a powerful piece filled with emotion and logic. King’s expert use of pathos invokes the emotions of his readers. Since the topic he is writing about is so serious, King sets a serious tone in this piece.
By playing on the emotions of his audience, using a variety of religious references, and using a serious tone that mirrors into the mood of the piece; Martin Luther King Jr. presents a fulfilling argument on the injustices taking place in Birmingham at the time. Emotions are a key part of human beings. Without different emotions, the human species could not function. By playing on the emotions of his readers, King automatically draws in their attention. The emotion hope is played upon throughout the piece: “As in so many past experiences, our hopes had been blasted, and the shadow of deep disappointment settled upon us” (425).
To portray the negativity of racism King uses these negatively associated words such as “blasted” and “disappointment”. By putting these words with positive words such as “hope”, it has sort of a reversed effect. The reader can relate to hopes being crushed and disappointment in their lives. By using relatable ideas and emotions, King’s message becomes effective. King’s piece is rife with relgious references. He uses a profusion of religious jargon and often compares himself to biblical characters: Just as the eighth century prophets left their little villages and carried their ‘Thus saith the Lord’ far beyond the boundaries of their hometowns; and just as the Apostle Paul left his little village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to practically every hamlet and city of the Greco-Roman world, I too am compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my particular hometown. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid” (424). By comparing himself to known biblical characters, the reader gets a sense of the message King is trying to send.
It better proves his point and allows the reader to connect to King on a spiritual level. He also uses more upfront religious references such as, “I hope the church as a whole will meet the challenge of this decisive hour” (437). King talks as a strong religious believer which may or may not appeal to his readers. By extrapolating his audience is religious, King is taking a risk, but one that works in his favor. Since the idea of religion relates so closely to racism and segregation, his use of religious references is clever and well thought out. King’s serious tone reflects the seriousness of the topic at hand.
His formal, solemn tone decisively expresses his point without waivering. If King were to have had a joyful, exciting tone in this piece, his purpose would not be taken seriously and would be completely contradicting. “We have waited more than 340 years for our constitutional and God- given rights” (427), says King. This expression of urgency directly reflects King’s serious tone. Because he is writing to his fellow clergymen, piece is formal. If King was to have written this piece in an informal manner, his ideas may not have had the right effect on his audience.
They would have looked down upon King and not taken his perspective as seriously. His ingenious use of formal and serious tone allows him to keep the reader interested and informed. Through multiple sagacious strategies, King’s piece becomes extremely effective. He uses religion, the reader’s emotions, and a serious tone to portray his ideas in a persuasive manner. King’s intelligence and preaching backround really allow his ideas to be projected onto his audience. If he were to change the way he presented his ideas they would not be nearly as effective and may not be as historic as they are today.