Rhetorical appeals Used in paragraphs of Letter from a Birmingham Jail

Instructions for Paper One: Martin Luther King, Jr. Analysis

Critics of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” typically agree that the text is persuasive because King was keenly aware of who his audiences were, and knew what kind of arguments would be most effective to persuade them. On the Discussion Board, we have already looked at how King hoped to reach a wide variety of people with this letter; King considered it a manifesto of sorts, a careful and considerate argument that he hoped would demonstrate that nonviolent resistance was the best way to end Jim Crow segregation. If King had simply wished to persuade “people” or Americans, the letter would have been too vague and general to be effective.

Now that we understand the rhetorical situation, your next assignment is to write an essay in which you argue for which section or paragraph of the letter is the strongest in King’s argument.

To make your case, use Aristotle’s framework for understanding rhetorical appeals (logos, pathos, and ethos), and write about how King deploys one or more of these appeals to persuade his readers. Is King at his best when he is using pathos? What about when he focuses on making logos or ethos appeals? Not only do you have to define what “strongest” means in this paper, but you also need to support your claim with evidence from the letter, showing who King is wanting to persuade, and which rhetorical appeal (or appeals) he depends on to accomplish this feat.

Paper Requirements

1. Length: 4-5 pages (that means AT LEAST 4 full pages of text).
2. Paper set-up: use MLA style.

a. The essay is to be double-spaced using 12-point Times New Roman font with 1 inch margins all around.

b. A Works Cited page is required.

c. A Works Cited page is always the last page of an essay – all by itself. The page numbers of the essay carry through to the Works Cited page

d. The entries of a Works Cited page are in alphabetical order by author’s last name.

3. Be sure to begin with a creative title that will invite the audience (me) to continue reading.

4. When you quote from the essay, be sure to cite the author’s last name and the page number. It should look like this:

When discussing the unequal application of the rules, King makes the point that it is easy to misinterpret the law when he says, “Sometimes law is just on its face and unjust in application” (180).


The connection between King and other great thinkers who found themselves faced with having to stand up for their ideas is made clear by Jacobus, who states: “King, like Thoreau, was willing to suffer for his views, especially when he found himself faced with punitive laws denying civil rights to all citizens” (211).

Note that the end punctuation is outside of the parenthesis; and note that there is no punctuation between the author’s name and the page number.


1. I expect a thesis that states clearly which paragraphs in King’s letter you believe have the most emotional appeal. Do not use the phrases “I believe,” “I think,” or “in my opinion”

– an academic audience already assumes that what they are reading is your opinion.

Look at the following examples for a demonstration on how to “fix it” when you find yourself in this situation:


I think paragraph fourteen is the most persuasive section of King’s letter. I believe that this paragraph compels the reader to emotionally accept the inequality being experienced by the African-American community.


Paragraph fourteen is the most persuasive section of King’s letter. This paragraph compels the reader to accept, on an emotional level, the inequality being experienced by the black community.

2. I expect body paragraphs that describe point by point how King is using the rhetorical appeal in the section you have chosen. These paragraphs should include quotes from the text for support of your argument. Be sure to use MLA citation.

3. The organization of the essay should reveal which examples you think are most powerful. Do not simply follow the order these examples are given in the book; organize your paper creatively, in other words.

Submission guidelines

You must submit a draft of your essay to the appropriate drop box on the Assignments page. After you have received feedback from your peers, you need to then submit your final paper for grading. At the end of your final paper, please attach a brief commentary explaining how you have improved upon your original draft (100 words minimum). If you use Track Changes, your comments and corrections to the original draft will appear in a different color.



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