“Letter from Birmingham Jail”: A Personal Response

King appealed to his audience, which includes me, through various forms of emotion, logic, and ethical reason. His voice remains strong throughout the letter, and I was very affected by his words. The point of his argument that I found most striking was his explaining of the exigency of his letter to the clergymen of Birmingham. He responds to the opinion that he is an “outsider agitator” to Birmingham, and argues that it is urgent that he comes to make peace. I agree with him strongly in his statement that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere… Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly”. I agree personally in that one negative piece of the puzzle will influence the whole, in this case, segregation in the community. It is more than urgent that King waits no longer and takes action to make sure that there is peace and justice everywhere, which will consequently indirectly change the peace and justice everywhere else.

Within this letter, I was most affected by the portion in which he uses the Aristotelian artistic proof pathos in which he describes his personal experience with segregation. “When you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that ‘Funtown’ is closed to colored children…” I find King’s writing technique in this paragraph very interesting- most of the paragraph is a long run on sentence that goes on and on without stopping, providing a long list of personal examples of hardship and stress; “when you….; when you…; when you…;”. It seems as though he uses this writing technique to portray his constant, endless frustration he faces every day in a segregated society structure of his words (as well as the context). Reading this paragraph numerous times makes me almost physically feel his persistent, never-ending feeling because the list goes on and on and on and seems to never end. I think that his technique is brilliant and successful in evoking that emotion in the reader, as it evoked that emotion in me.

I also find the letter striking in his use of historical references, for example Hitler. Through the Aristotelian artistic proof ethos, he discusses just and unjust laws in society and uses Hitler as a prime example; the things Adolf Hitler did in Germany were legal action within the boundaries of the law, but were they morally right? Did his actions serve justice for society? No. Meaning, just because segregation is ‘legal’ and there are laws that make it ‘acceptable’ for the society in which they live, does not mean that they are ethical and morally just for the people. As he quotes St. Augustine- “an unjust law is no law at all.” What King argues in this point is completely correct to me, and effective in his use of historical examples of unjust laws, showing that segregation laws do not serve peace or justice, as laws should.

I also admire his use of quotes from different figures throughout history, including biblical references that people in the community can relate their religious values to; “Jesus an extremist for love: ‘Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.’” With his use of religion, he connects to the audience through their values- ie religion. While I am not personally a religious Christian and do not connect with his religious statements, I agree with the point and argument he is trying to get across with these examples. I practice Buddhism, and though the Christian references to not connect with my values, many aspects of his thought and reason throughout the letter do connect to my Buddhist values of peace and justice.

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