Literary comparison between Henry Thoreau's "Civil Disobedience" and Martin Luther King's "Letters from Birmingham Jail."

Essay by JohnGoodmanHigh School, 11th grade March 2006

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Martin King and Henry Thoreau both write persuasive expositions that oppose majority ideals and justify their own causes. While this similarity is clear, the two essays, "Letters from Birmingham Jail" by King and "Civil Disobedience" by Thoreau, do have their fair share of differences. Primarily in the causes themselves, as King persuades white, southern clergy men that segregation is an evil, unjust law that should be defeated through the agitation of direct protesting, and Thoreau, writing to a more broad, non addressed audience, and focusing more on the government itself, contends that at its present state, with the war with Mexico and the institution of slavery, that one should do as he does and refuse to pay government taxes that support such evil practices or "traditions." While both Thoreau and King prevail in establishing a firm impression for what they strongly believe in, they each succeed in their persuasive efforts through different means.

Chiefly, in the way that King draws emotional appeal with the usage of a burning passion and devotion, and Thoreau, while still making it evident that he is devoted in what he believes in, draws more emotional appeal through being more distressed and concerned than naively hopeful and optimistic. However, similarities remain to be as numerous as differences as both Thoreau and King bring credibility or ethical appeal to their assays essentially with allusions to Christ and the Bible.

First, King's emotional appeal is what above all contrasts his essay with Thoreau's. As virtually everything else; the theme of disobeying "unjust laws", their admiration for the "minority's viewpoint, and even, coincidently, where they wrote their essays - prison, is all the same. King makes two references to conversations shared with his children. Once with his little girl who wants to go to the public amusement park and...