Courtesy of John R. Edlund
Checklist for Rhetorical Analysis
I. Analyzing the Arrangement
Descriptive Outlining: This process is designed to make explicit the structure of the article, the
function of each section, and the claims made by the writer.
1. Draw a line where the introduction ends. Is it after the first paragraph, or are there more
2. Draw a line where the conclusion begins. Is it the last paragraph, or does it begin before
3. Divide the body of the essay into sections based on topics.
4. In the margins, write brief statements describing the rhetorical function and content of
each paragraph or section.
a. What does each section do for the reader? What is the writer trying to
b. What does each section say? What is the content?
c. What are the major claims or assertions made by the writer? (You may want to
From your work charting the text, what do you think is the essay’s main point? Is it explicit, or
is it implicit?
II. Audience and Purpose
1. Who is the audience for this piece?
2. What is the writer trying to accomplish with this piece?
II. Thinking Critically
From the analysis you have done so far, you should be well-prepared to analyze the character
and intentions of the author, the emotional effects of the language and the details on the reader,
and the logic and support of the arguments.
Ethical questions (Ethos)
1. Who is this author? What can you tell from the information in the text? Does he or
she have the background to speak with authority on this subject?
2. If you were going to do an internet background check on this author, what would you
want to find out?
3. What sort of ethos does this writer try to project in this article? What devices does he
or she use to project this ethos?
4. Do you trust this author? Do you think this author is deceptive? Why or why not?
Questions about emotional effects (Pathos)
1. Does this piece affect you emotionally? What parts?
2. Do you think the author is trying to manipulate your emotions? How?
3. Do your emotions conflict with your logical interpretation of the arguments? In what
Logical questions (Logos)
1. Aristotle notes that in ordinary speaking and writing we often use what Aristotle calls
a Arhetorical syllogism@ or an enthymeme. This is an argument in which some of the
premises remain unstated or are simply assumed.
Locate major claims and assertions you have identified in your previous analysis and
work out the unstated assumptions behind them. Are these assumptions valid?
2. Look at support for major claims and ask “Is there any claim that appears to be weak
or unsupported? Which one and why?”
3. Can you think of counter-arguments that the author doesn’t deal with?
4. Do you think the author has left something out on purpose? Why or why not?
Finally, all things considered, are you persuaded by this author’s thesis and arguments? Why or
Letter From Birmingham Jail 1
Letter from Birmingham Jail
by Martin Luther King, Jr.
From the Birmingham jail, where he was imprisoned as a participant in nonviolent demonstrations against segregation, Dr.
Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote in longhand the letter which follows. It was his response to a public statement of concern and
caution issued by eight white religious leaders of the South. Dr. King, who was born in 1929, did his undergraduate work at
Morehouse College; attended the integrated Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania, one of six black pupils
among a hundred students, and the president of his class; and won a fellowship to Boston University for his Ph.D.
WHILE confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent statement calling our present activities "unwise
and untimely." Seldom, if ever, do I pause to answer criticism of my work and ideas. If I sought to answer all of the criticisms
that cross my desk, my secretaries would be engaged in little else in the course of the day, and I would have no time for
constructive work. But since I feel that you are men of genuine good will and your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I would like
to answer your statement in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms.
I think I should give the reason for my being in Birmingham, since you have been influenced by the argument of "outsiders
coming in." I have the honor of serving as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization operating
in every Southern state, with headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. We have some eighty-five affiliate organizations all across the
South, one being the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights. Whenever necessary and possible, we share staff,
educational and financial resources with our affiliates. Several months ago our local affiliate here in Birmingham invited us to be
on call to engage in a nonviolent direct-action program if such were deemed necessary. We readily consented, and when the hour
came we lived up to our promises. So I am here, along with several members of my staff, because we were invited here. I am
here because I have basic organizational ties here.
Beyond this, I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the eighth-century prophets left their little villages and carried
their "thus saith the Lord" far beyond the boundaries of their hometowns; and just as the Apostle Paul left his little village of
Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to practically every hamlet and city of the Greco-Roman world, I too am compelled
to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my particular hometown. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for
Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be
concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an
inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. Never
again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial "outside agitator" idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can
never be considered an outsider.
You deplore the demonstrations that are presently taking place in Birmingham. But I am sorry that your statement did not express
a similar concern for the conditions that brought the demonstrations into being. I am sure that each of you would want to go
beyond the superficial social analyst who looks merely at effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. I would not
hesitate to say that it is unfortunate that so-called demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham at this time, but I would say in
more emphatic terms that it is even more unfortunate that the white power structure of this city left the Negro community with no
IN ANY nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices are alive,
negotiation, self-purification, and direct action. We have gone through all of these steps in Birmingham. There can be no
gainsaying of the fact that racial injustice engulfs this community. Birmingham is probably the most thoroughly segregated city
in the United States. Its ugly record of police brutality is known in every section of this country. Its unjust treatment of Negroes
in the courts is a notorious reality. There have been more unsolved bombings of Negro homes and churches in Birmingham than
in any other city in this nation. These are the hard, brutal, and unbelievable facts. On the basis of them, Negro leaders sought to
negotiate with the city fathers. But the political leaders consistently refused to engage in good-faith negotiation.
Then came the opportunity last September to talk with some of the leaders of the economic community. In these negotiating
sessions certain promises were made by the merchants, such as the promise to remove the humiliating racial signs from the
stores. On the basis of these promises, Reverend Shuttlesworth and the leaders of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human
Rights agreed to call a moratorium on any type of demonstration. As the weeks and months unfolded, we realized that we were
the victims of a broken promise. The signs remained. As in so many experiences of the past, we were confronted with blasted
hopes, and the dark shadow of a deep disappointment settled upon us. So we had no alternative except that of preparing for direct
action, whereby we would present our very bodies as a means of laying our case before the conscience of the local and national
community. We were not unmindful of the difficulties involved. So we decided to go through a process of self-purification. We
Letter From Birmingham Jail 2
started having workshops on nonviolence and repeatedly asked ourselves the questions, "Are you able to accept blows without
retaliating?" and "Are you able to endure the ordeals of jail?" We decided to set our direct-action program around the Easter
season, realizing that, with exception of Christmas, this was the largest shopping period of the year. Knowing that a strong
economic withdrawal program would be the by-product of direct action, we felt that this was the best time to bring pressure on
the merchants for the needed changes. Then it occurred to us that the March election was ahead, and so we speedily decided to
postpone action until after election day. When we discovered that Mr. Conner was in the runoff, we decided again to postpone
action so that the demonstration could not be used to cloud the issues. At this time we agreed to begin our nonviolent witness the
day after the runoff.
This reveals that we did not move irresponsibly into direct action. We, too, wanted to see Mr. Conner defeated, so we went
through postponement after postponement to aid in this community need. After this we felt that direct action could be delayed no
You may well ask, "Why direct action, why sit-ins, marches, and so forth? Isn't negotiation a better path?" You are exactly right
in your call for negotiation. Indeed, this is the purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and
establish such creative tension that a community that has consistently refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks
so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. I just referred to the creation of tension as a part of the work of the
nonviolent resister. This may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word "tension." I have
earnestly worked and preached against violent tension, but there is a type of constructive nonviolent tension that is necessary for
growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage
of myths and half-truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, we must see the need of having
nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men to rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism
to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood. So, the purpose of direct action is to create a situation so crisis-packed
that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation. We therefore concur with you in your call for negotiation. Too long has our
beloved Southland been bogged down in the tragic attempt to live in monologue rather than dialogue.
One of the basic points in your statement is that our acts are untimely. Some have asked, "Why didn't you give the new
administration time to act?" The only answer that I can give to this inquiry is that the new administration must be prodded about
as much as the outgoing one before it acts. We will be sadly mistaken if we feel that the election of Mr. Boutwell will bring the
millennium to Birmingham. While Mr. Boutwell is much more articulate and gentle than Mr. Conner, they are both
segregationists, dedicated to the task of maintaining the status quo. The hope I see in Mr. Boutwell is that he will be reasonable
enough to see the futility of massive resistance to desegregation. But he will not see this without pressure from the devotees of
civil rights. My friends, I must say to you that we have not made a single gain in civil rights without determined legal and
nonviolent pressure. History is the long and tragic story of the fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges
voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Niebuhr has
reminded us, groups are more immoral than individuals.
We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the
oppressed. Frankly, I have never yet engaged in a direct-action movement that was "well timed" according to the timetable of
those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word "wait." It rings in the
ear of every Negro with a piercing familiarity. This "wait" has almost always meant "never." It has been a tranquilizing
thalidomide, relieving the emotional stress for a moment, only to give birth to an ill-formed infant of frustration. We must come
to see with the distinguished jurist of yesterday that "justice too long delayed is justice denied." We have waited for more than
three hundred and forty years for our God-given and constitutional rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike
speed toward the goal of political independence, and we still creep at horse-and-buggy pace toward the gaining of a cup of coffee
at a lunch counter. I guess it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say "wait." But when you
have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen
hate-filled policemen curse, kick, brutalize, and even kill your black brothers and sisters with impunity; when you see the vast
majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when
you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she
cannot go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her little eyes
when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see the depressing clouds of inferiority begin to form in her little
mental sky, and see her begin to distort her little personality by unconsciously developing a bitterness toward white people; when
you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son asking in agonizing pathos, "Daddy, why do white people treat colored
people so mean?"; when you take a cross-country drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable
corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs
reading "white" and "colored"; when your first name becomes "nigger" and your middle name becomes "boy" (however old you
are) and your last name becomes "John," and when your wife and mother are never given the respected title "Mrs."; when you are
harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never knowing what to
expect next, and plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of
"nobodyness" -- then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs
over and men are no longer willing to be plunged into an abyss of injustice where they experience the bleakness of corroding
despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.
Letter From Birmingham Jail 3
YOU express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so
diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court's decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, it is rather
strange and paradoxical to find us consciously breaking laws. One may well ask, "How can you advocate breaking some laws and
obeying others?" The answer is found in the fact that there are two types of laws: there are just laws, and there are unjust laws. I
would agree with St. Augustine that "An unjust law is no law at all."
Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine when a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made
code that squares with the moral law, or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To
put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas, an unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal and natural law. Any law that
uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because
segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a
false sense of inferiority. To use the words of Martin Buber, the great Jewish philosopher, segregation substitutes an "I - it"
relationship for the "I - thou" relationship and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. So segregation is not only
politically, economically, and sociologically unsound, but it is morally wrong and sinful. Paul Tillich has said that sin is
separation. Isn't segregation an existential expression of man's tragic separation, an expression of his awful estrangement, his
terrible sinfulness? So I can urge men to obey the 1954 decision of the Supreme Court because it is morally right, and I can urge
them to disobey segregation ordinances because they are morally wrong.
Let us turn to a more concrete example of just and unjust laws. An unjust law is a code that a majority inflicts on a minority that
is not binding on itself. This is difference made legal. On the other hand, a just law is a code that a majority compels a minority to
follow, and that it is willing to follow itself. This is sameness made legal.
Let me give another explanation. An unjust law is a code inflicted upon a minority which that minority had no part in enacting or
creating because it did not have the unhampered right to vote. Who can say that the legislature of Alabama which set up the
segregation laws was democratically elected? Throughout the state of Alabama all types of conniving methods are used to
prevent Negroes from becoming registered voters, and there are some counties without a single Negro registered to vote, despite
the fact that the Negroes constitute a majority of the population. Can any law set up in such a state be considered democratically
These are just a few examples of unjust and just laws. There are some instances when a law is just on its face and unjust in its
application. For instance, I was arrested Friday on a charge of parading without a permit. Now, there is nothing wrong with an
ordinance which requires a permit for a parade, but when the ordinance is used to preserve segregation and to deny citizens the
First Amendment privilege of peaceful assembly and peaceful protest, then it becomes unjust.
Of course, there is nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience. It was seen sublimely in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach,
and Abednego to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar because a higher moral law was involved. It was practiced superbly by the
early Christians, who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks before submitting to certain
unjust laws of the Roman Empire. To a degree, academic freedom is a reality today because Socrates practiced civil
We can never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was "legal" and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in ...
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