Martin Luther King and Henry David Thoreau each write exemplary persuasive essays that depict social injustice and discuss civil disobedience, which is the refusal to comply with the law in order to prove a point. In his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” King speaks to a specific audience: the African Americans, and discusses why he feels they should bring an end to segregation. Thoreau on the other hand, in “Civil Disobedience,” speaks to a broader, non-addressed audience as he largely expresses his feelings towards what he feels is an unjust government. Both essays however, focus on the mutual topics of morality and justice and use these topics to inform and motivate their audience to, at times, defy the government in order to establish the necessary justice. They both effectively illustrate their philosophy that civil disobedience is a necessity, and the similarities and differences of these two essays are portrayed through their occasion, audience, purpose, speaker and tone.
Each author has his main point; Thoreau, in dealing with justice as it relates to government, asks for “not at once no government, but at once a better government. King contends that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” they both use occasion and purpose, but each author used these devices to bolster their claims. The occasion of a persuasive essay can give the reader an understanding of why the author may be persuading the audience about a certain topic. Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience,” is written in the United States, during the transcendentalism era, around 1837 to 1840’s. His occasion also includes the small amount of time he spent in jail for not paying his taxes. On the other hand, King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” is written more than one hundred years later. King writes in Birmingham Alabama during the Civil Rights Era. Similar to Thoreau’s, King’s occasion is in a jail cell, but for almost the majority of his essay. Both of these essays have occasions that take place during a time when there was a large amount of concern about social injustice of the government and it is understood why the authors would write their essays in the first place. The audience allows the author to be focused on certain groups or individuals. Thoreau and King both aim at large audiences. Thoreau focuses on U.S. citizens, primarily intellectuals in the East and North of the United States. It can be understood that Thoreau’s audience focuses on U.S. citizens because he often writes of the injustice that the government displays towards its people. For example, Thoreau writes, “Why does it not encourage its citizens to be on the alert to point out its faults, and do better than it would have them?” On the other hand, King’s audience is understood to be the eight clergymen that wrote against King’s actions, but it is also implied that King’s audience also includes the U.S. citizens and the world. Both of these authors have large audiences that greatly affect the amount of impact that the two essays have.
Henry David Thoreau and Martin Luther King, in “Civil Disobedience” and “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” respectively, both conjure a definitive argument on the rights of insubordination during specified epochs of societal injustice, both authors use purpose and tone to advocate their claim. The purpose of a persuasive essay is to convince the reader to agree with an author’s viewpoint or to accept the recommendation for the course of action. Thoreau’s purpose is to convince his audience to not follow the majority, but do what is felt to be morally right. He also aims to expose the corruption of the government and encourage citizens to take action against civil injustice when necessary. King has very similar purposes aiming to disagree with social injustice, but his purposes also include that he is trying to defend himself and his organization, Southern Christian Leadership Conference, from protestors and the government that disagree with his movement for civil disobedience. He also aims to change public policy and bring the civil rights movement to national attention in order to increase the likelihood that his actions will cause good consequences and will not be futile. The purposes of both Thoreau’s and King’s essays are meant for improving the world around them. The speaker of an essay is the voice that narrates in an essay. Both King and Thoreau speak with many different voices that help the audience understand where the author is coming from. In “Civil Disobedience,” Thoreau speaks as a critic, teacher, advisor, and advocate. King speaks as a minister, civil rights leader, visionary, advocate, and African American victim. Both speak as sorts of advisors, but King speaks almost as a “holy” advisor because of the fact that he is a minister. They similarly speak as advocates of civil disobedience, but Thoreau also portrays the fact that he speaks as a critic towards the government actions, when King is more respectful. Unlike Thoreau, King speaks as a minority that has been a victim of social injustice because of racial differences. Both speak with many different roles that connect the author with the audience.
Each author efficiently shows their main point; Thoreau deals with justice as it relates to government, he asks for, “not at one no government, but at once a better government,” King believed, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” each author uses tone to reinforce their claims. The tone of an essay is the attitude of the author that is speaking. Both Thoreau and King speak with several tones that aim to evoke passion in the audience. Thoreau’s tone is didactic, persuasive, and frustrated. Thoreau writes almost as a teacher that dictates directions to his pupils to go against the frustration he has for the government. Conversely, King’s tone is understated, respectful, and calm. Although King is incarcerated, he still speaks calmly, which is the reason for why his tone is understated, and even though most people in his position would be furious at the government because he was locked up for unjust reasons, he remains respectful. If Thoreau was in the same position as King and persecuted for the color of his skin, he would be extremely angry compared to King.
Martin Luther King and Henry David Thoreau each write exemplary persuasive essays that depict social injustice and discuss civil disobedience, which is the refusal to comply with the law in order to prove a point. Each author efficiently shows their main point; Thoreau deals with justice as it relates to government, he asks for, “not at one no government, but at once a better government,” King believed, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” each author uses occasion, audience, purpose and tone to reinforce their claims. By analyzing the occasion, audience, purpose and tone of the essays, it is clearly shown that King may have borrowed many of his ideas about civil disobedience from Thoreau. The two essays also have many differences that are evident throughout the analysis of the two essays that divide individual interpretation of each text, but it is obvious that the overall purpose of these two essays is to persuade the audiences that civil disobedience is necessary if there is social injustice in the government that governs someone.
...(download the rest of the essay above)