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I Have a Dream






I Have a Dream

In this world, there are so many stories in different versions from different people. Some of the stories are educational, entertaining or even motivational. The stories can be verbal, written or recorded in document form. Narratives on personal experiences of the people like former slaves give clarity in understanding the culture, trials and turmoil they went through in the struggle for their freedom and justice. In his speech, Martin Luther King makes it easier to understand the troubles the black Americans go through in the mid-20th century. King finds it easier to put across his cry for justice and hopes for the future through an oral narrative; otherwise called a speech. Gates provides an elaborate theory into understanding the black culture with the signifying monkey theory. He illustrates the signification aspect by use of Rap as the form of expression among the black community. He argues that the use of the poetry did not begin in America after the black people arrived but it was a part of the western culture in Africa her states signifying as ‘more humane’ as a form of fighting the discrimination and other forms of prejudices. In addition he adds “the black person’s capacity to create this rich poetry and to derive the form these rituals a complex attitude towards attempts at domination, which transcended in and through language, is a sign of their originality of their extreme consciousness of the metaphysical”. This draws a conclusion as evidenced in the Martin Luther King speech was a means of fighting the dominance and attaining dominance due to the existence of prejudices. Martin Luther’s efforts in Gates perspective were meant to ‘destroy’ the existing prejudices, which were in existent against the black people.

“I have a dream” is a speech by Dr. Martin Luther King Junior in 1963. However, what then was the essence of the speech? How did he deliver the speech? What is his argument and how effective does he presents the argument. Finally, how would one interpret the speech in terms of getting the point across, presentation of cultural, moral- values and beliefs? This essay is going to analyze the effectiveness of a speech as a tool of passing across a message and find out the achievement and reaching of the speech objectives. It looks at the basic aspects of the composition of the speech and its delivery (Dlugan). Further, it emphasizes rational discussion, extemporaneous speaking and emotional elements of speech.

Mikhail Bakhtin is of the view that the presence of neutral styles in speech is bound to give the listener an identity about the speaker (Bakhtin, 2004). The words by Martin Luther King clearly elucidate the presence of a person addressing people calling for change. The words “the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity” in relation to the given explanation clearly exemplify the presence of an African American addressing similar people (King, 1963). It is vital to understand the utterances of the speaker to get a clarified picture of the circumstances for the utterances. Due to the presence of an addressee when Martin Luther made his speech, the speech is not thus a language in existence all by itself. Hence, the statements can be classified as utterances according to Bakhtin due to the simple presence of an addressee as the words spoken evolve form mere language, which is merely part of a linguistic effort in means of expression. He states, “The most neutral speech acts unavoidably contain dialogic relationships which are complicated by the meetings of the words and its objects results in the complicated dialogic features”.

The essay answers the question ‘why’ in the speech presentation. It looks at ways through which the audience interprets and understands the speech in modes of speech and sound recognition in understanding language. In speech analysis, Dlugan writes that the most important thing to look at is the objective, the main argument of the speaker, the main reasons for the speech delivery. This answers the question, why. The goal that the speaker intends to achieve in delivering the speech: is he educating, motivating, persuading or just entertaining? To answer the question, we analyze the primary message in the speech and its relevance to the audience. Answering these questions successfully determines the achievement of objectives. 1963 is the year when Martin Luther King delivered the speech. The kind of treatment black Americans received was like a kind of a bad movie. America was full of open discrimination. This brought about strife and revolts all over the nation especially in the states inhabited by the black people by then. Somebody had to stand and address the issue. This is when black American rights activists come up with the struggle for justice. Martin Luther King comes up with a narrative speech to address the people. Himself being a descendant of the slaves and knowing what discrimination was, he knew that the most effective way of addressing the problem was through a speech.

The black people, whom Martin Luther terms as “sons of former slaves” (King, 1963). Met discrimination in all aspects of their daily lives including voting, lodging and many more areas. This is besides slavery having been abolished “one hundred years ago” (King, 1963).The main objective in the narrative speech was to deliver a message of hope to black Americans struggling with oppression and racial discrimination. First, King acknowledges the fact that America is a great nation. He introduces the speech by saying that that will make history as a greatest demonstration for freedom in America. Already, the audience knows that it is a speech for freedom demonstration because of the first statement. He clearly establishes the intention of the speech in the first statement, which pulls the attention of the audience “history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history” (King, 1963).

The speech is mainly political and at the same time motivational. He motivates the black American people to keep the faith since he had a dream that one day they will be free. The speaker bases his argument on the fact that the black Americans have a ‘check’ with ‘insufficient funds’. He uses metaphor to address their hopes when, “five score years ago, a great American…signed the emancipation proclamation” (King 1963). The critical issue here is whether the misplacement of objectives of the speech or not. According to the situation and time of the speech delivery, the objectives are placed correctly. They coordinate with the political temperatures and the audience expectations. The speech addresses the future, which Luther terms as a dream. This gives hope to the audience whom we are told is mainly black Americans with scores of whites. In the dream, he sees both black and white people integrating freely and judging their children based on the content in their heads rather than their skin color. We can also say the speech is provocative. The speaker is simply challenging the kind of power against black Americans. He challenges discrimination within ‘whites only’ places and other rights inaccessible to the black Americans.

Although Dr. Martin Luther addresses the black community, the message in the speech was also for those in power, the police and resource owners like the highway-lodging owners. They are the main subjects in the speech since they possessed the key that could end discrimination. By indicating on lodges, ‘whites only’, the owners were discriminating against the blacks, the police harassed and arrested people of color while those in power watched seated in comfort. King challenges them since they did not honor the proclamation signed ‘one hundred years ago’.

The effectiveness of the speech comes out clearly, as King pulls the emotions of the audience when he highlights the situation and the kind of injustice black Americans go through. He points out that it was one hundred years since the signing of the proclamation declaring slaves free took place, yet black Americans were not free. He further utters that: “The Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity” (King, 1963). That is besides the proclamation promising equal rights to all men, black or white. King goes on to tell the audience that he still believes that the proclamation will come to pass since he and the general audience:” refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity in this nation” (King, 1963)

In essence, King becomes authoritatively sure that justice is not accessible to the black Americans and hence urges them to forge on with the fight for it. The metaphor King uses to compare justice to banks is effective as it assures the audience that they deserve more than what they get and just like money in the bank, justice is in store for them, though they have to fight for it. To get his point of hope across, Luther makes the black Americans believe that since he is a significantly powerful black American rights activist, the people will believe and fight on towards the dream, which he tells them that he has. He questions the applicability of the emancipation proclamation, which came with a promissory note/check that was yet to be cashed. This speech elaborates its objectives by promising the audience that his dreams of justice and equality will happen.

Black Americans were undergoing oppression through racial segregation in places of work, lodges, voting rights and many other fields. Through the speech, king tries to uplift their moral by encouraging them to remain calm: “In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence” (King, 1963). He warns them to maintain their morals in the fight for justice and to keep strong their belief that one day they will be free. However, King does not leave the people with a series of problems in their heads but rather presents possible solutions to their problems. In the speech, (paragraph 6), he says that the black people deserved citizenship rights. He gives them hope that his dreams would happen. “And there will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges” (King, 1963).By saying this, he gives hope to the audience and at the same time intimidating the power holders of the continuation of the revolt if the black Americans didn’t get their rights and justice.

The Martin Luther speech can be further evaluated with the use of two speech genre theories, which enable clarification and elaboration as to the reasons, and meaning of the speech. The first theory is the signifying monkey theory by Henry Louis Gates Jr. the signifying monkey theory is in a better position in use of evaluation as it lays emphasis on the black culture. Hence, it allows a better-informed analysis of the statements provided by Martin Luther King. The signifying monkey theory is a term used to describe the use of psychoanalytic approach to analyze terms usually from black culture. Gates tells of how the black culture had theorized itself by the use of signs. He sets out his theory from reading African American texts to get a clear picture of how they use the signs as a means of communication with special reference to the African American vernacular language.

He explores a mythical character told in African folklore to help readers and language enthusiasts to understand the origins of the use of the signification as a form of language. The character is cunning in nature. In addition, from this meaning he concludes that the use of the signifying aspect in speech is a part of the figurative vernacular language in use by the African American community. It has been a part of the African American community since they arrived from Africa as slaves. The use of signifying or figurative language in essence is part of the black community culture. Hence it can be considered as part of the black heritage to use figurative language as a form of expression. It is common in African culture to use signifying language to express deep feelings and opinions. In addition, the words by Luther King can be described as wise as depicted by most of the figurative language used in the African language. Figurative or signifying language can thus be described as used to give out wise sayings and teachings in the African culture. The early African narratives can be attributed to the birth of the use of signifiers in any form of speech especially within the African American culture. It can be concluded form the text that the use of signifying in speech is deeply rooted in African culture.

Martin Luther King’s words “I have a dream … Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred… the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity” are clear indications of the deep-rooted use of signifying aspect in speech (King, 1963). It is apparent from every part of speech by Martin Luther from the consistent use of signifying language that it is part of the African culture and heritage to use figurative language to express deep feelings and views (Gates, 1988). Hence, it was necessary for Martin Luther King to use figurative language as it was mainly addressed to the African American population under oppression. It was necessary for Luther King to use figurative language because the African American community could easily relate with the signifying aspects in the speech, as it was part of the African heritage and a means of communication when they came to America as slaves.

According to Bakhtin, a sentence lacks meaning if there is absence of an addressee. Hence, if the words of Martin Luther were not addressed to the African American population and were just mere rhetoric, they could as well have been sentences without meaning, as they exist independently. This is evidenced in the words “Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence” (King, 1963). These words are dependent of an addressee as the speaker addresses the words to the African American population in identical situations. Hence, the use of signification in the speech of Martin Luther king’s words can enable the wider population to suggest the identity of the speaker.

As entertaining as they may seem, stories are very sensitive in that they always have a message to pass. The timing, the setting, the audience and the tone of the story determines the coherence of the narrative.

King delivers the speech, “I have a dream”, at a time when there were political anxieties among the black Americans because of racial discrimination. One’s skin color determined admission to any place rather than the contents in the head. King, one of the crusaders of justice to end discrimination, addresses the crowd to give them hope for the future of the black community in the United States. The speech is effective as it handles the main points in clarity of purpose and passes out the points clearly to the audience. The manner in which King explains himself in the narrative gives the best historical relevance and still educates the future generations on the issues he addresses. He uses metaphors and excessive repetition in emphasizing his main points.

In paragraph 14, he repeats the terms, ‘go back to’ severally to make it sound like a persuasion to the audience to get back to their respective homes and think about the need to change the existing situation. This kind of repetition is meant to invoke a repeated sense of urgency and a demand of need for reaction as it comes on repeatedly. In paragraph 16, King uses the phrase ‘I have a dream’ repeatedly to emphasize the fact that black American people should not lose hope about their future. Furthermore, it emphasizes his objectives and clarifies his visualization and the intentions to realize them. To emphasize further the importance of his ‘dream’, he uses metaphor. In paragraph 15 of the speech “…heat of justice, heat of oppression, and oasis of freedom and justice” (King, 1963). It mainly brings out the tone and the mood of the speech. Furthermore, the metaphor is comparing the tension created by the injustices and oppression to heat. It further emphasizes on the need to achieve the main objective of the speech: the dream.

Martin Luther King uses the speech to express the treatment the black Americans receive; discrimination and other social injustices. He uses the speech to provide a possible way forward for them and gives them hope that the dreams he has will happen. By expressing these dreams, he invokes this hope; which is the most important for the blacks to sustain their desire to achieve what they believe they should have. He uses the speech to address both the oppressors and their victims, black Americans. He is not biased but is rather bold and to the point in delivery of the objectives of the speech. The speech ends in a high tone as he leaves the audience with hopes of justification of redemption in the end.

In conclusion, it is evident that the lingual aspects of speech give rise to our own identities. As evidenced by the speech by Martin Luther, words spoken to others tell them about who we are. In addition, the presence of an addressee gives the whole aspect of speech its weight and actual meaning. Hence, if there were no addressees to whom the speech was directed to, the words would lack meaning and would be regarded as mere sentences hence the words by Martin Luther are utterances which are expected to evoke emotions on the part of the listener or the addressee.


American Rhetoric: Martin Luther King, Jr. – I Have a Dream. (n.d.). American Rhetoric: The Power of Oratory in the United States. Retrieved September 16, 2011, from

Bakhtin, M.M. (2004). “Dialogic Origin and Dialogic Pedagogy of Grammar: Stylistics in Teaching of Russian Language in Secondary School”. Journal of Russian and East European Psychology. Vol42 (6).12-49.

Dlugan, A. (n.d.). Speech Analysis: How to Critique a Speech. Six Minutes: Public Speaking and Presentation Skills Blog. Retrieved September 16, 2011, from

Gates, H.L. Jr. (1988).The Signifying Monkey: The Theory of Afro-American Literary Criticism. New York: Oxford University Press.

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