Thursday, May 9, 2013

I have A Dream…: Timeless in Appreciation

            The creative style of writing is the most versatile of all approaches.  It is used in situations varying from children’s stories to slogans in government-produced documents to the lyrics of a song.  There are hundreds of tactics that are categorized under the umbrella of creative style: common ones such as metaphors and similes to ones that no one except an English major would hear such as zeugma and conduplicatio.  With true knowledge of the implications of words and order you can achieve all of your goals.  Martin Luther King, Jr.’s wrote the speech “I Have A Dream…” in hopes of achieving his goals.  It is arguably one of the most famous speeches in American history and is quoted extensively.  King fully understood the activity system in which he was writing.  His speech became legendary, not only for its exemplary use of anaphora, synecdoche, and alliteration among other rhetorical devices, but also because it helped spur a whole social and political movement.
            When a piece of work is written it is not frozen in time but free to adapt and flow among the many uses and contexts readers pursue it in.  King wrote “I Have A Dream…” with a very specific purpose to promote equality spurred by the excessive racism African Americans faced at the time.  As a man with unmatched vision, he undoubtedly expected a positive reaction as he planned to give it on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963 during the “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom,” but even he could not anticipate the momentous effects it would have on the nation for generations to come.  The activity system his speech related to at the time of delivery was exponentially large.  Thousands of people had gathered at Lincoln Memorial for the march.  Microphones and a sound system worked as mediating artifacts; most people couldn’t even see him but it was the expression and conviction he used in the delivery of the poetically calculated words that stirred peoples’ hearts.  As the leader of a movement King knew people were looking to him for guidance in a manner they could understand.  Being extensively educated was not typical for the black citizen at the time and King respected that fact by not using any type of jargon.  Instead he spoke to each member of the audience in a matter that felt individual and relatable.  This was no small feat as there was such a diverse crowd of people playing different roles in both formal and informal institutions and the very nature of those institutions were being called into question: children were looking down the barrel of a future that would be incomparable to their parents in terms of equality, the white man stood frozen in fear that they would no longer dominate in the hierarchy of social interactions, young adults were frazzled by the prospect that they could one day attend a college that could make them rich. 
            The speech services a whole different type of activity system in modern day.  Virtually every student is required to read it while in high school whether to benefit from the historical, sociological, or communicative lessons it has to offer.  King’s speech has been placed on a pedestal for all to admire.  It has been broken down and examined time and time again and the general consensus is that is an exemplary piece of rhetorical writing in the creative style.
One device that King relies on is anaphora, which is an excellent tactic to use when trying to emphasize a point.  It involves the repetition of the same words at the beginning of phrases or sentences.  King used this method extensively throughout his speech, helping to climax certain points.  Examples include, “100 years later,” “now is the time,” “We cannot be satisfied,” and the ever famous line, “I have a dream.”  These examples reflect attributes of parallelism as they put equally important ideas in similar grammatical structures.  Each time King used this tactic he was met with inspired cheers from a crowd of thousands of diversely mixed people.  One common aspect they had in common was that they couldn’t help but be aroused by the words flowing from this hopeful, powerful man.  However, while he used it effectively, he was not the first person to master the tool.  Adolf Hitler was a mastermind of speech deliverance as well and embraced many of the same tactics.  King was explicitly following the rules and norms of crowd engagement.
Another example of prose style that King uses effectively is synecdoche.  Synecdoche is a figure of speech in which a term is used to refer to a whole of something else.  In this example, the word “bodies” is used to represent people and thus reminding the audience that the problems they are facing are related to their skin 
color.  He furthers his analogy later when he refers to people again through the use of the word “flesh.”  This
time, the reference to skin color is in hope of the future where flesh could be viewed as simply flesh and not be determined in value or worth by the color of it.  While this rhetorical device may have been glossed over when the speech was first given, it is fully appreciated through the reading of the text today.  The African American communities listening to it in the sixties compared to the average person reading it today clearly have unequal amounts of education.  This adds to the complexity of the web of the activity system and the division of labor.  Another rhetorical device that the average listener in the sixties might not have picked up on is metonymy, which is using an associated idea to refer to something else.  King states, “Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.  Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.  Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi.”  The Stone Mountain of Georgia, Lookout Mountain in Tennessee, and Mississippi are all locations that were filled with racism at the time.
            King ends his speech with a hyperbole, which is essentially the epitome of a climax.  It exaggerates
the importance of something, in this case he exaggerates how far and wide freedom will ring, an occasion that is deserving of full exaggeration.  Ironically, freedom did seem to ring from across every city when he finished his speech as cheers erupted from the Lincoln Memorial and every soul clapped with joy.
            “I Have A Dream…” is a timeless piece of work.  It is relatable to all types of people across many decades; importance can be drawn from so many different aspects of the piece.  It was written with the intention to inspire those of the time and to promote equality and while those outcomes were indeed fulfilled, many more ensued.  King was tragically murdered five years afterwards; some of the motivation can be connected to how powerful his speech was.  Fast forward some forty years later and the power of the words are still felt by all who read it.  Students who learn about it in school understand the importance of it just as much as those in the sixties.

By: Erin Perry

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