Originally posted at teenink.com
author’s comments: This piece was written for a high school paper in my English 1 class. I enjoyed learing more about Martin Luther King. It is my hope that this work will encourage teens to take a close look at his letter.
The renowned author Truman Capote illustrated the power of writing when he stated, “writing has laws of perspective, of light and shade…” Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” contains these “laws” to convince the clergymen of a church. Each of King’s sentences asks for impartiality and justice for the rights of African Americans. King’s letter uses metaphors and similes to highlight the discrimination occurring and seeks support from the church to help end the awful treatment of African Americans.
Martin Luther King’s metaphors persuade the clergymen to put themselves in the shoes of African Americans. He expresses the privation of African Americans with a metaphor when he wrote; “When you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an air-tight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society….” King compares “smothering in an air-tight cage” to the poverty African Americans are suffering under. A second metaphor depicted racial injustice as “quicksand”. Using the metaphor “quicksand” provides urgency to the issue. This quote portrays how racial injustice is incessantly sinking America and its citizens into dangerous circumstances. Even though racial injustice and quicksand are different, they both are negative elements that cause destruction.
Furthermore, figurative language is used multiple times in King’s letter to convey injustice as immoral. King emphasizes this situation by saying it is painful like “a boil that can never be cured as long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its pus-flowing ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light….” In other words a healing boil is akin to racial injustice being exposed so it can be resolved. When racism is exposed, people may see the repulsiveness of the issue. He believes his use of figurative language will make his audience think about these circumstances in detail. …
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