A Stylistic Analysis of Martin Luther King‟s I Have A Dream
Abstract: On the base of the definition of Stylistics, this thesis gives a detailed
analysis of some the of stylistic devices used in the famous speech by the
well-known American civil rights movement leader Martin Luther King, Jr., and
then probes into the stylistic characteristics of speech as a style..
关键词，文体学 文体手段 分析演讲
Key words: Stylistics Stylistic devices analysis speech
As an interdisciplinary field of study, stylistics promises to offer useful insights into literary criticism and the teaching of literature with its explicit aims
and effective techniques. It is very useful in the analysis of various styles of writing. In this thesis, the author tries to offer a stylistic analysis of the famous speech by Martin Luther king, Jr. I Have a Dream.
1. Introduction: Definition of Stylistics and Stylistic Analysis
As far as the definition of stylistics is concerned, different scholars define the branch of study in different ways. Wales defines stylistics simply as “the study of
style” (1989:437), while Widdowson provides a more informative definition as “the study of literary discourse from a linguistic orientation” and takes “a view
that what distinguishes stylistics from literary criticism on the one hand and linguistics on the other is that it is essentially a means of linking the two” (1975:3). Leech holds a similar view. He defines stylistics as the “study of the use
of language in literature” (1969:1) and considers stylistics a “meeting-ground of
linguistics and literary study”(1969:2). From what Widdowson and Leech say, we can see that stylistics is an area of study that straddles two disciplines: literary criticism and linguistics. It takes literary discourse (text) as its object of study and uses linguistics as a means to that end. Stylistic analysis is generally concerned with the uniqueness of a text; that is, what it is that is peculiar to the uses of language in a literary text for delivering the message. This naturally involves comparisons of the language of the text with that used in conventional types of discourse. Stylisticians may also wish to characterize the style of a literary text by Systematically comparing the language uses in that text with those in another. Halliday points out, “The text may be seen as „this‟ in contrast with „that‟, with another poem or another novel; stylistics studies are essentially
comparative in nature…”(1971:341). On this points, Widdowson is of the same opinion as Halliday. He says，“All literary appreciation is comparative, as indeed is a recognition of styles in general” (1975:84). Thus, we may conclude that stylistic analysis is an activity that is highly comparative in nature.
2. Related Information of the Speech I HAVE A DREAM and Its Author
Martin Luther King, jr. was born on January 15, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia, the son of a clergyman and the grandson of a slave. After attending several colleges he received his Ph. D. in theology from Boston University in 1955. He led the bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955-1956. As president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, he then led civil rights
demonstrations in many cities. In 1963 he helped organize the march on Washington, which brought together more than 200,000 people. A leader in establishing a nonviolent civil rights movement, King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 1964. King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1968, shortly before his fortieth birthday. Since then, he has become an American folk hero, and on November 2, 1983, a law honoring Dr. King was signed by President
Rigan, effective January 1986, making the third Monday of January a national holiday. He is the only U. S. citizen other than George Washington to be recognized in this way. In 1863 President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation freeing all slaves in the United States. One hundred years after this decree was signed, however, the life of blacks was still “sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the Chains discrimination.” On
August 28, 1963, a quarter of million people of all races came to Washington, D. C., to show their support for freedom and justice for all Americans, and for black people in particular. At that demonstration, Martin Luther King, jr. delivered this famous speech I HAVE A DREAM, widely regarded as the most eloquent
statement of the black people‟s dreams and aspirations ever made. In his speech, Dr. King told the world, “I have a dream” that equality would come “to all of God‟s children.” He said he wanted everyone to be able to “join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, „Free at last! Free at last!…‟”
3. A Stylistic analysis of the Speech (An analysis of some of the stylistic devices
used in the speech)
Martin Luther King‟s speech of August 28, 1963 is widely regarded as one of the most powerful ever delivered in the United States. Although this address was delivered orally, it was read from a written text composed with great care. It is an example of formal English with a convincing style. Here are some of the stylistic devices (which maybe considered traditionally as rhetorical devices) used by Dr King to inspire and persuade.
3.1 Repetition: Throughout the speech, Dr. King repeats words and sentence.
This is a very outstanding feature in this speech called repetition. It belongs to the stylistic device of syntactic over-regularity. The term repetition is restricted to mean the case of exact copying of a certain previous unit in a text such as a word, phrase or even a sentence (Leech, 1969), because all the over-regular features in literature are in some sense repetitious. Used in speech,
repetition not only makes it easy for the audience to follow what the speaker is saying, but also gives a strong rhythmic quality to the speech and makes it more
memorable. In paragraphs 8 through 16, for example, King uses the words “I have a dream” nine times. This repetition helps to achieve the function of coherence in discourse and the function of reinforcement in mood and emotion, expressing the speaker‟s strong emotion of longing for freedom, justice, righteousness and a much more united nation of all of God‟s children. If we study the whole speech more carefully, it is easy for us to find many other examples of repetition used. But one hundred years later, we must face the tragic fact that the Negro is still not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. Here the phrase “one hundred years later” has been repeated three times, seemingly indicating that it is really a long time for the Negro to wait for the coming of the time of justice and righteousness. But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. (Par.4) the phrase “we refuse to believe that…” has been used twice to indicate the speaker‟s good hope. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to open the doors of opportunity to all of God‟s Children. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. (Par.4) In this short passage, the clause “Now is the time to…” has been used four times to emphasize the fierce urgency of “NOW” and to encourage and persuade the blacks to take immediate
action to rise above and gain their own rights and freedom. Other examples of
repetition can still be easily found throughout the speech. In par. 7, the words
“we can never/cannot be satisfied as long as…” has been used as many as five times to show the determination and persistence of the black people; in par. 17, the words “with the faith we will be able to…” has been repeated twice for the purpose of showing how strong the faith of the black people is to struggle for the brotherhood of “all of God‟s children”, and how strong the faith of the black people is to believe that they “will be free one day”. Now let‟s enjoy another
example. And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire! Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania! Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado! Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California! But not only that; 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. From every mountainside, let freedom ring. When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city… (Paragraphs 19 through 25) the words “Let Freedom ring…” has been repeated as many as nine times to
indicate that it is the whole of the United States rather than any part of it that
should be bathed in the sunshine of freedom.
3.2 Use of Parallelism
Parallelism is another syntactic over-regularity. It means exact repetition in equivalent positions. It differs from simple repetition in that the identity does not extend to absolute duplication, it “requires some variable feature of the pattern-some contrasting elements which are „parallel‟ with respect to their
position in the pattern” (Leech, 1969:66). To put it simply, parallelism means the balancing of sentence elements that are grammatically equal. To take them parallel, balance nouns with nouns, verbs with verbs, prepositional phrases with prepositional phrases, clauses with clauses, and so forth. In his speech, Martin Luther King uses parallelism to create a strong rhythm to help the audience line up his ideas. Here are few examples: …by the manacles of segregation and the
chains of discrimination… (Par.2, two parallel noun phrases) “This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drag of gradualism.” (Par.4, two parallel infinitive phrases: “to engage…to take…”) “there will be neither rest nor tranquility in America…”(Par. 5, two parallel nouns joined with “neither…nor”) “We shall never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity…”(Par. 7, two parallel verb phrases) It is traditionally believed that parallelism is used for the purpose of emphasizing and enhancing, esp. in speech, the ideas expressed by the
speaker (or author in written versions), thus always encouraging and inspiring the audience. We need not to be very carefully to find out many more examples
of parallelism used in King‟s speech and classified as is followed:
3.2.1 parallel nouns:
This not was a promise that all men would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. (Par. 3, three parallel nouns as attributive) 1963 is not an end, but a beginning (Par. 5, two parallel nouns joined with “not…but…”) Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. (Par. 6) …have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny and their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. (Par. 6, two pairs of parallel nouns). I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment… (Par. …a desert state
sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. (Par. 11, two pairs of parallel nouns). 3.2.2 Parallel noun phrases:
So we have to come to cash this check-a check that will give as upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. (Par. 4 I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brother hood (Par. 10)
3.2.3 Parallel infinitive phrases:
It would be fetal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment and to underestimate the determination of the Negro. (Par.5, two parallel infinitive
phrases) With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to straggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day. (Par. 7, five parallel infinitive phrases). 3.2.4 Parallel prepositional phrases
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. (Par. 12) …, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, … (Par. 25) E. Parallel clauses: (21) …, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny and (that) their freedom is inextricably bound t our freedom. (Par. 6, two parallel objective clauses) (22) I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough place will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. (Par. 6, six parallel clauses used as appositions of the noun “dream”).
3.3 Use of Similes and Metaphors
As two very important types of meaning transference in literature, similes
and metaphors are comparisons that show similarities in things that are basically different, which can be used to add vividness and vitality to writing. As Leech points out, metaphor is associated with a particular rule of transference which
may be called the “metaphoric rule” (1969: 151). That is, the figurative meaning is derived from the literal meaning or it is, as it were, the literal meaning. Throughout the speech, King makes extensive use of similes and metaphors. In
paragraph 1, for example, King compares The Emancipation Proclamation to
two forms of brilliant light cutting through darkness. The first-“a joyous
daybreak”-compares it to the sunrise, which (in this case) ends “the long night of captivity”. In paragraph 2, he speaks of “the manacles of segregation and the
chains of discrimination,” comparing segregation and discrimination under which the Negro people live to the manacles and chains once used on slaves. Therefore, it is very clear that the using of similes and metaphors can definitely add vividness and vitality to writing and make it easy for the readers or audience to understand. Now let‟s cite some of the similes and metaphors used in King‟s speech. (23) One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. (Par. 2, metaphors) (24) But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity for this nation (Par.4, metaphors) (25) This is no time … to take the tranquilizing drag of
gradualism. (Par. 4, metaphor) (26) This sweltering summer of the Negro‟s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. (Par. 5, Metaphors) (27) …we will not be satisfied until
justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream. (Par. 7, Similes) (28) …a situation where little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and
brothers. (Par. 14, Similes)
3.3 Use of Contrast
Although maybe a rhetorical device instead of a stylistic one, contrast has also been used effectively, like repetition, in this speech, achieving the function of making clear the ideas of the speaker. In paragraph l, for example, “great beacon
light of hope” is contrasted with “flames of withering injustice,” and “joyous daybreak” with long night of captivity.” As it is defined, contrast is used to show the difference between two things. Therefore, it is not very difficult for us to understand why the speaker king uses so many contrasts in his speech. (29) One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. (Par. 2) (30) Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. (Par. 4) (31) Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood (Par.4) (32) This sweltering summer of the Negro‟s
legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. (Par. 5) (33) 1963 is not an end, but a beginning. (Par. 5) (34) Again and again we must rise to the majestic height of meeting physical force with soul force. (Par. 6) (35) And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back. (Par. 7) (36)…the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. (Par. 10) (37)…a desert state sweltering
with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. (Par. 11) (38)…where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. (Par. 12) (39) With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. (Par. 17) (40) With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.
As we have analyzed above, stylistic devices are frequently used in the discourse of literary works especially in speech, to achieve certain specific
purposes. Thus making the style of a speech somewhat particular to the others.
Generally speaking, a speech may have the following stylistic characteristics: To begin with, it must be very persuasive. Thus the sentence patterns are very well-organized, with repetitions, parallelism and contrasts frequently used. Secondly, it should be emotional so as to be convincing, because the speaker should face the audience directly and his words should not only be orderly and informative but also be expressive and inspiring. Therefore, the stylistic devices such as similes and metaphors are often involved. Finally, in many cases, written-conversational style is usually used with not very formal diction and not very complicated sentence structure.
. Martin Luther King, Jr., I Have a Dream, August 28, 1963
. Wang Shouyuan, Essentials of English Stylistics, Shandong University Press,
. Pan Shaozhang, English Rhetoric and Writing, Shanghai Transportation University Press, December, 1998
. Widdowson, H. G. Stylistics and the Teaching of Literature, Longman, 1975 . Leech, G. N. “ „This bread I break‟ Language and interpretation”. In D.C. Freeman. (ed.). Linguistics and Literature Style. New York:Holt, Rinhart & Winston.