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Letter from Birmingham Jail

This study guide will help you analyze the text “Letter from Birmingham Jail” by Martin Luther King Jr. We will show you examples of elements in the text that will be relevant for your analysis. In these notes, we will focus on summary, topic, writer, reader, language, modes of persuasion, circumstances, and intention.

Presentation of the text

Title: “Letter from Birmingham Jail”
Writer: Martin Luther King Jr.
Genre: Open letter
Publication date: 16th of April, 1963
Context: The American Civil Rights Movement, the Birmingham campaign

Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968) was an African-American Civil Rights activist and a Baptist Minister. King often spoke on behalf of activists, becoming a leader of the movement. He promoted nonviolence and civil disobedience as means to advance civil rights. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. The “Letter from Birmingham Jail” was written by King while he was in jail because he and other leaders proceeded with organizing protests in Birmingham despite a judge issuing an injunction order against them.

Excerpt

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Antithesis

Antithesis means the writer creates contrast and oppositions between people, ideas, situations, etc. The usual purpose of antithesis is to maintain readers’ attention and highlight one of the opposing terms. For example, the phrase “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” creates opposition between justice and injustice in the US and paves the way for the writer’s argument that racial segregation is unjust and people should fight against it.

In another example, King opposes constructive tension to violent tension to argue that non-violent activism is a powerful but positive way of advocating for equal rights: “I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth.”

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Letter from Birmingham Jail

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