"Letter from a Birmingham Jail", by Martin Luther King and Henry David Thoreau's "Civil Disobedience."

Essay by matt090586High School, 11th gradeA+, May 2003

download word file, 3 pages 2.6

"Letter From a Birmingham Jail" by Martin Luther King, Jr. and Henry David Thoreau's "Civil Disobedience" both display their authors' views on justice in their respective periods of time. King believes that one has the right to break a law that is morally unjust. Thoreau has a rather radical approach to the subject in that he believes when a government becomes unjust, it is the right and duty of the people to refuse participation in it. He also makes it clear that a major weakness in the democratic government is that its power comes from the majority because they are the strongest, not because they hold the most legitimate viewpoint. Both essays argue for justice in an unjust world using emotional and logical persuasive techniques. Given a choice, King's essay is much more effective because his goals are more practical and conceivable.

The emotional appeal, or pathos, is one of the more common techniques used in persuasive essays as it is highly effective for any reader.

King begins his emotional appeal within the opening statement of his essay. Using the word "confined", he sets up sympathy for him and his time in jail. Most of King's use of pathos is highly centered on biblical allusions; this is to be expected of a clergyman. Again, he begins immediately with his biblical allusions, starting with the third paragraph. In this allusion, King very effectively equates his struggle to that of the Apostle Paul. He feels "compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond [his] particular home town", just as Paul "carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to practically every hamlet and city of the Graeco-Roman world." This glorifies King's struggle and helps the reader to better understand his reasoning. King's allusions and emotional appeal instill a feeling of purpose in the...