Rhetorical devices

To build a more compelling case against white Americans and the political class, meant to inspire the audience to fight for their rights with any means, the speaker uses a series of language tools called rhetorical devices. These tools make “The Ballot or the Bullet” more memorable and help the speaker maintain his audience’s attention.

In what follows, we will look at some of the most important rhetorical devices used by the speaker and how they work with the speech. Note that these are only some examples and not a full list of all the devices the speaker uses. We encourage you to look for other examples of the same devices in the text to further enrich your an…

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Allusion

An allusion is a reference to a person, event, or text that is relevant to the speech. Malcolm X uses this device extensively in his speech, as it helps him illustrate points related to the Civil Rights Movement and the need to fight by any means necessary to promote Afric…

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Analogy

An analogy is a form of comparison through which a speaker wants to show similarities or differences between people and events.

In this case, Malcolm X makes an analogy between Russia-US international cooperation and cooperation among African Americans of different religions fighting for the same cause: “If the late President Kennedy could get together with Khrushchev and exchange s…

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Antithesis and alliteration

Antithesis refers to creating contrast between ideas, concepts, or people to maintain the audience’s attention and to emphasize an idea the speaker supports.

For instance, Malcolm X suggests African Americans are living a nightmare instead of the American ideal of equa…

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Imagery, metaphors, and similes

Malcolm X fills his speech with imagery (mental images) that has a strong emotional impact, created with the help of metaphors and similes.

For example, the speaker uses the metaphor of a boat to suggest that all African Americans (regardless of religion) are victims of discrimination and oppression: “We're…

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Irony and sarcasm

Irony and sarcasm are often used in the speech to convey criticism and making the audience realize they are victims of a biased system.

For example, the speaker uses sarcasm to suggest that European immigrants are better treated than African Americans: “Everything that came out of Europe, every blue-eyed thing, is already an American.”

To…

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Repetition and tricolon

Repetition is one of Malcolm X’s favorite rhetorical devices. For example, the theme and title of the speech “the ballot or the bullet” is mentioned about 16 times by the speaker: “Let it be the ballot or the bullet. Let him know that it must be the ballot or the bullet.”. This is meant to send a warning to the American government, cautioning them that African Americans are willin…

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Rhetorical questions

Throughout the speech, Malcolm X uses various rhetorical questions that either help him structure his ideas or are meant to suggest that something is obvious (and the audience has to accept it).

Some examples of rhetorical questions that help structure the speech are: “The question tonight, as I understand it, is ‘The Negro Revolt, and Where Do We Go From Here?’ or What Nex…

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