“In Civil Disobedience”, Henry David Thoreau, stresses on the true
importance of the individual and his power to alter governmental
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., in “Letter from Birmingham Jail”, places strong
emphasis on direct action to impose reform, while promoting the
of rights for all individuals. Both authors incorporate strong rhetorical
strategies that appeal to the lectors, such as ethos and pathos.
King’s piece exalts effectively due to the genuine modesty he portrays a
quality Thoreau lacks provoking a reverse reaction than the one desired.
The ability to strike an individual with emotion is the ability to detect
that debile section of the human and touch the true depths of their natural
sentiments. King utilizes emotion in a tremendous way by quoting the Bible
and mentioning Christ’s doings. He takes in consideration that the
components of his audience are clergymen that assumingly have a profound
study of the Bible and intends to persuade them with this knowledge
tactically. When he incorporates passages of the Bible, he compares them to
actions he has or will act upon in good faith: “Like Paul, I must
respond to the Macedonian call for aid”. Here King compares his predicating
of freedom with that of the Apostle Paul’s of the gospel.
King later uses a
different form of emotional appeal when he speaks of his personal
with racism, quoting his five year old son with an ingenuous question:
“Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”. With statements
such as these, King places the reader in a small area of his life, stating
events he has lived and sensed, enabling the piece to penetrate further
within its lectors.
Thoreau possesses a very dry emotional appeal in his piece because of his
lack of modesty, that almost makes his statements and remarks seem
However, the emotional appeal, although found vaguely within his writing
somewhat connected to ethical appeal, is existent within the piece: “The
best thing a man can do for his culture when he is rich is to endeavor to
carry out those schemes which he entertained when he was poor.” Thoreau
radiates emotion while connecting morality; he is inviting the audience to
be humble and not allow the power of ambition consume and morph that simple
way of life. Later on, he supports and advances his thought with a Biblical
quotation: “Render therefore to Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and to God
those things which are God’s”, appealing once again to emotion through the
word of the Lord, that is universally known to be sagacious.
in the piece, the writer speaks of this experience in jail with a prisoner:
“I pumped my fellow-prisoner as dry as I could for fear I should never see
him again”. Pity can be sensed in this remark, but is still not completely
authentic to appeal in its entirety to the reader.
Morals, beliefs, and values are learned qualities humans possess, and serve
as the catalysts of the conscience. Humans act upon accordingly to what the
conscience dictates, idealistically speaking, and the conscience acts upon
that individual’s perception of right and wrong. King combines this
effectively and wisely inserts it in the piece, thus appealing to his
selected audience in the ethical aspect: “One who breaks the unjust law
do so openly, lovingly and with a willingness to accept the penalty”. Here
King approaches his audience in a humble manner stating that one should
himself responsible for his actions, leading the audience onto sensing the
conspicuous honesty in his words, provoking not only a great appeal but a
desire to continue acknowledging his words.
Then we have Thoreau with his wide variety of ethics and morals, that
although are appealing to a certain extent, contain a slightly pretentious
feel, radiating ambiguity in his approach to appeal. “A man has not
everything to do, but something; and because he cannot do everything, it is
not necessary that he should do something wrong”. The meaning of this
statement is in itself positive, but his aggravated attitude is lucid. If
would appear before his audience with a distinct attitude of positivism and
humbleness; with actual solutions to the argued problem rather than
complaining about the issue, his appeal would stand firmer.
In conclusion, both pieces emphasize on the rights and duties of the
individual when he encounters unjust laws and actions. King’s honesty,
authenticity and overall modesty appeals to the lectors because, they are
able to sense his clear eagerness and preoccupation to resolve the issue in
a moderate manner.
Thoreau lacks this much needed modesty to gain the
sympathy of his .