A Rhetorical Analysis Essay Example

Throughout the literary works composed by Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King Jr., and Thomas Jefferson, a common variety of ethos and pathos provided their respective audiences with a gesture corresponding with “The Preamble of the Constitution” and the American Ideal of change. Although all three pieces have fallacies and emotional challenges directed towards different audiences, Dr. King’s rhetoric proves itself more effective when compared to Jefferson and Douglass through the absence of fallacies that damage their credibility and argument.

When analysing Dr. King’s “Letter From a Birmingham Jail”, the cohesion of the pathos and ethos used by Dr. King provides an effective comparison between “The Preamble” and the American Ideal of change. Dr. King mentions, “Justice too long delayed is justice denied”, which coincides with the injustices his audience, the white moderate, are causing in American during King’s era (King 207). The white moderate is in the audience as he mentions experiences African-Americans have undergone in the previous days leading up to his arrest. Moreover, this is an attempt to challenge the morals of the white moderate, as these experiences are in contrast to Christian values. Consequently, the challenge of morals presented to the audience provides an effective use of pathos. However, Dr. King’s statement regarding justice is also associated to the Preamble and the American ideal through the mention of justice. Within the “Preamble of the Constitution”, it is stated, “...establish justice...”, which implies that justice should be a continual right given to all American citizens (Madison 7). Dr. King relates his statement to both the American Ideal and Preamble as he entails that this “right of justice” isn’t available to all citizens because of racial injustice during his era in America, a country that abides to “The Preamble of the Constitution”. Likewise, Dr. King refers to the American ideal of constant change throughout the letter as its argument pertains to the change of racial injustice in America as Dr. King’s letter utilised emotion appeal to create an effective argument and reference to American history; a reference to the document that America was built on. Dr. King further supports this correlation through ethos as it is a known fact that he, like his audience, is an American; which drives this connection to become even more poignant. Furthermore, unlike both Douglass’s and Jefferson’s literary work, Dr. King solidifies the effectiveness of his rhetoric when he correlates “The Preamble” and American Ideal to his argument as it contains no literary fallacies that pulls his audience away from the argument. Through this, Dr. King’s appropriate use of rhetoric is the most effective when compared to the other two documents.

Frederick Douglass’s Appendix and Thomas Jefferson’s “Declaration of Independence” both utilised rhetorical strategies similar to Dr. King; like challenging the emotions of the audience and used credibility to further the correlations between their challenges and arguments, to the American Ideal and “The Preamble”. Nevertheless, the effectiveness of their rhetorical strategies fizzled as either the tone or logic presented was not proper. When evaluating Douglass’s literary work, it can be observed that Douglass’s use of pathos is the most prominent rhetorical strategy. Douglass mentions, “I love the pure... hypocritical Christianity of this land”, to illustrate the basis of his argument to the audience, the white moderate of his era (Douglass 1). The strong wordage of “women-whipping”, “hypocritical”, and “cradle-plundering” are all examples of pathos as they are words that pertain to the overly-sentimental fallacy; which is prevalent throughout his Appendix. Douglass’s use of pathos in this context provides an intriguing perspective on the interpretation of “The Preamble” during his era as Douglass states how the current religion of America is hypocritical to its values. Consequently, Douglass strengthens the American Ideal as he challenges the hypocritical religion of his time by calling for a change. This call for change is in accordance to “The Preamble of the Constitution” as well. Madison states in the Preamble, “...insure domestic tranquility...”, he implies that American citizens’ lives are to be protected, but Douglass’s description of the treatment of slaves, which he includes himself, contrasts to what Jefferson intended for America (Madison 7). Unlike the previously mentioned literary works, Jefferson’s “Declaration of Independence” reinforced “The Preamble” through a variety of fallacies. In reference to the charges on King George III, Jefferson listed, “He has refused... Against the lives of another”, where he presented a multitude of fallacies which included: stacking the deck by never acknowledging the opposing view, overly-sentimental through wordage like “tyranny”, and Ad Hominem as he attacked the King’s lone actions upon the colonies (Jefferson 188-190). All the charges against King George III are qualities they do not want in America, so when “The Preamble” contains, “... in order to form... America”, it is contradictory to all the charges (Madison 7-8). Jefferson listing the charges allows the creation of the American Ideal of change to be cemented in our narrative as the entire document of “The Declaration of Independence” is calling for a change in government. Ultimately, the “Declaration of Independence” administered the effectiveness both Douglass’s appendix and Dr. King’s “Letter to a Birmingham Jail”, but Jefferson’s effectiveness fizzled when he excluded the section regarding slavery as he was hypocritical to his own argument. Similarly, Douglass’s rhetorical effectiveness failed as well, but it was because of his rash tone to his audience. The overly-sentimental fallacies throughout his appendix were not included in an appropriate manner and constituted an insulting tone instead of a progressive inflection.

Dr. King, Jefferson, and Douglass provided literary works that both cemented and reinforced the American ideal of change and the basis of “The Preamble of the Constitution”. Throughout all three works, a constant call for change is illustrated through the cohesion of the rhetorical strategies of pathos and ethos. However, Dr. King’s rhetoric demonstrates itself to be more effective as both Jefferson and Douglass alike had literary and logical errors that repelled their audience away from their arguments.


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