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Jordan Marinelli Cristina Garcia

A Cluster Analysis of: Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech Everyone loves a good story of the underdog coming out on top, of the outsider being welcomed into the group, or of a single voice propelling action toward a good cause. Everyone loves to hear this story, but how does that underdog/outsider/loan voice persuade the masses to embrace what they stand for? How did Susan B. Anthony persuade Americans that women deserved the right to vote? How did Abraham Lincoln persuade the union that slavery was wrong? In general, what communication strategies can a revolutionary use to induce acceptance of his or her cause? Great men and women have demonstrated this ability using many different strategies of communication. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech is the most rhetorically effective speech ever written. In a time of social unrest, segregation, and inequality, the African American community shared a common dream of freedom, justice, and equality. On August 28, 1963, America witnessed King proclaim this common vision of social tolerance. This cry for justice, heard by all, was a launching point that spurred the civil rights movement forward. The method used to analyze this speech is called cluster analysis. A cluster analysis is a specific method of rhetorical analysis that was created by Kenneth Burke. It is the method through which a critic examines the structural


relations and associative meanings among certain main ideas, concepts, or subjects present in the text.

Analysis A cluster analysis of King's speech reveals three very important components of his dream. First, King makes the distinction between the negative past and present versus the hope for a more positive future. Second, a sense of urgency is transmitted, and third, he uses communication to create a sense of commonality between himself and his audience. For this cluster analysis, we will look at four key terms that demonstrate these aspects of King’s dream. The key terms include: we, Negro, America(n), and dream. The term America is used in the same context and interchangeably with the words American and nation; therefore, these terms were grouped together as one key term. We will take a closer look at each key term individually to see how the clustered words around it communicate the specific components of King’s dream formerly stated.

Key Term 1: We We is the most mentioned key term throughout King’s speech. He refers to himself as a part of this we group. The group which is encumbered within the we reference seems to evolve throughout the speech. At the beginning of the speech, we is in reference to King and his current supporters. The cluster words that surround the term we at the beginning of his speech express an indisputable need for change immediately. In addition, the words he uses mostly hold a negative connotation. He declares, “we have also come to this hallowed spot to


remind America of the fierce urgency of now.” King wants to sympathize with his supporters while also making the rest of America aware of the devastating circumstances that black people were facing. His purpose is to create equality through peace, to "conduct [their] struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline.” He cautions the we group to, “not seek to satisfy [their] thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.” He does not shy away from cluster words such as hatred and struggle; rather, he uses the words as a tool to draw in his audience creating a sense of common ground and understanding.

Key Term 2: Negro The term Negro is also set up in a negative light. King uses this term to form a bond among black men and then he shows how the Negro has been alienated from American society. King says, “the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination.” These words are not light; instead, they declare a very serious state of suffering with which the Negro has had to live for a very long time. King also uses the term “one hundred year later” repetitively clustered around the key term Negro as a way of pressing the urgency of the matter to the forefront of his audience’s minds. He says, “one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free.” This lone statement sums up the problem at hand and declares that the Negro has waited long enough for freedom.

Key Term 3: America(n)


With the key word America(n), there is a clear shift of tone when we analyzed the surrounding cluster words. America is the audience of King’s speech; he uses positive terminology to describe the America in his dream. Rather than pointing fingers and shouting blame King says, “I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.” King uses a positive tone when referring to the term America because he wants to reinforce and transmit the peaceful nation about which he dreams. He also addresses his audience as a whole to “remind America of the fierce urgency of now.” King does not leave any room for disagreement on this one time is of the essence.

Key Term 4: Dream In and of itself the key term dream is a very hopeful word. Webster’s dictionary defines the word dream to mean “a strongly desired goal or purpose.” King’s dream was deeply resonate with a desire for peace, justice, and equality. He uses the key term dream as a picture of the future changes he has in mind for himself and all Negros. He describes the way he envisions the future; King describes Americans as “ris(ing) up together” as “sisters and brothers.” He describes an America that is peaceful, and where all people are equal. The cluster words around the term dream are painted in a very positive light.

Conclusion A cluster analysis of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech reveals a number of rhetorical strategies that are available for rhetors who want to persuade their audience to embrace their ideology. The first part of such a


strategy is for the rhetor to include a history of the existing problems thus ensuring that his or her audience believes that the rhetor accurately understands the present situation. This part of the strategy shows that the rhetor has a suitable understanding of the current situation that his or her audience is facing, and can therefore easily persuade them to embrace his or her solution. Next, the rhetor must combine his focus on the current situation with a conversation about the means by which he or she believes transformation can take place. One of the best ways to this is too empower the audience to be a part of the forward movement which will take them to a better future. King does this by communication the dilemma America is facing by describing the pain and anguish the Negro community has been subjected to. King then provides his listeners with his dream, or in other words, with the solution of making America a peaceful place. By doing this, King makes his audience aware of the issues and asks them to stand with him in creating change.


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right to vote? How did Abraham Lincoln persuade the union that slavery was wrong? In general, what communication strategies can a revolution...

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