Rhetorical devices

Martin Luther King uses a series of rhetorical devices – language tools designed to make his speech sound more appealing and make his ideas more memorable.

In what follows, we will look at some of the most-used rhetorical devices in “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop”, giving you examples from the speech. Note that this is not a comprehensive list and you are encouraged to look for other examples in the sp…

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Allusions and references

Allusion means making an indirect reference to a person, event, or literature that helps with the purpose of the speech. In this case, indirect references and direct references are the predominant language device used by the speaker, so you can find many examples in the speech.

The first part of the speech is filled with direct references to h…

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Analogy

Making an analogy means making a comparison between people or events, to outline an idea. For example, King makes an analogy between African Americans and slaves in Ancient Egypt to show that to win the fight against discrimination, African Americans need to be united: “…whenever the slaves get together, something…

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Antithesis

Antithesis means creating opposition and contrast. This tool helps maintain the audience’s attention while making the opposing ideas stand out.

One example from the speech is “only when it is dark enough can you see the stars.” By opposing light with dark, King wants to suggest that challenges and hard times are sometimes necessary. This antithesis is a metaphor…

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Imagery, metaphors, and similes

The speaker makes his case more compelling by including imagery in his speech. Examples are when he describes the Jericho Road or the poor living conditions of sanitation workers: “It's a winding, meandering road. It's really conducive for ambushing. You start out in Jerusalem, which is about 1200 miles – or rather 1200 feet above sea level.” ; “…and force everybody to see that there are thirteen hundred of God's children here suffering, sometimes going h…

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Repetition

Repetition is used in several ways by the speaker. When it is in the form of anaphora (repeated words at the beginning of successive phrases or sentences), the speaker wants to draw attention to the repeated word: “Something is happening in Memphis; something is happening in our world.” .  Here, “something” refers to a big ch…

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