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Civil Disobedience

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While comparing two pieces of writing with such rich literary content, one must first examine their subject, occasion, audience, purpose, speaker and their tone. “Civil Disobedience”, by Henry David Thoreau and “Letter from Birmingham Jail” by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., both illustrate transcendental ideas and views. Both display how the act of civil disobedience is sometimes necessary while dealing with types of social injustice. King, thought wrote his essay about a hundred years after Thoreau, connects in many literary techniques and in some instances, in context as well to Thoreau’s work. By using Ethos, Logos, and Pathos King and Thoreau write their essays to persuade their audience with their common idea of the necessity of civil disobedience when the government and the society present unjust actions. In “Civil Disobedience”, Thoreau relies more on Ethos and Logos with combination with his rhetoric strategy to sway his audience into agreeing with his point of view.

That could be shown when Thoreau says, “He who gives himself entirely to his fellow men appears to them useless and selfish; but he who gives himself partially to them is pronounced a benefactor and philanthropist.” Likewise, Dr. King also uses rhetoric techniques to convince his audience with his outlook, but he relies more on Pathos to capture the sentimental aspect of his audience. King’s use of Pathos is clear when he says, “…when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick, brutalize, and even kill your black brothers and sisters with impunity…” By mastering diction, he is able to make one cry just by choosing the right words to make the reader/audience feel involved in the subject discussed. Now, one would ask, why did these two skillful writers put so much emphasis on their persuading techniques? Well, after annotation and thorough analysis of such magnificent pieces of writing, one can clearly illustrate the pure transcendentalist ideas in both texts. When “Civil Disobedience” was published in 1849, Thoreau wanted to point out how the government was being interdependent. He also wanted to justify his act of civil disobedience (not paying his poll tax).

One can evidently feel his transcendental thoughts through his righting. He mentions the importance of the individual when he says, “…until the State comes to recognize the individual as a higher and independent power, from which all its power and authority are derived, and treats him accordingly.” Correspondingly, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. uses equivalent techniques to deliver his message and persuade his audience to agree with him. The ubiquitous transcendentalism is shown in “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” However, Dr. King attacked the matter he discussed, which is the segregation of Blacks in the South, from a different perspective. Dr. King proposed that the laws in place were morally wrong. Therefore civil disobedience is necessary. Nevertheless, he also proposed that the government should be involved and change such unjust laws. Unlike Thoreau’s idea of limiting the government, King seeks the involvement of the government.

Dr. King also praises the importance and power of the individual while supporting his views by relying on Ethos and Logos. He utilizes numerous allusions to serve the purpose of persuading his audience using the logical aspect. That is shown when he says, “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…” In conclusion, one would say that by using such rhetoric techniques in addition to Ethos, Logos, and Pathos, Thoreau and Dr. King were successful at illustrating their transcendental ideas and also swaying their audience to agree with their message, thoughts and mentality.

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