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Essay: Speeches have the ability to change the world (I have a dream/Berlin wall)

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  • Published: 15 September 2019*
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  • Tags: Martin Luther King Essays

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Speeches have the ability to change the world, by definition a speech is “the expression of, or the ability to express thoughts and feelings by articulate sounds”. Speeches have the power to change perspectives, ignite wars and solve conflicts. However, an iconic speech is more than the words being said, but the reputation of the speaker and the message they are giving. Whether the message is for good or bad, speeches inspire the audience to make a change. Both the “I have a dream” speech by Martin Luther King Jr, and the “Berlin wall” speech by Ronald Reagan, have had a seismic impact on the world.

Martin Luther King, born 1929, was an American Baptist minister and Civil rights activist. King took a particular liking to the teachings of Mahatma Ghandi, learning from his nonviolent activism. Kings actions were based on Ghandi’s ethical values and his own Christian beliefs, King became a civil rights activist early in his career. In 1955, King was the leader in protest of the Montgomery bus boycott, which later became one of the most historical events in the fight against segregation. Essentially, King led a very successful movement in which African Americans would not ride the bus until the supreme court ordered for an integrated bus system. The reasoning behind the protest was due to the arrest of Rosa Parkes, an African American woman that refused to give up her bus seat to a white person. The boycott lasted just over a year until finally, the supreme court ordered for integration. King led the boycott to fight for freedom against segregation, much alike his “I have a dream” speech, being his vocal standpoint for anti-segregation.

On the 14th of October 1964, King received the Nobel prize for combating racial inequality through nonviolent resistance. This was Kings first major award as he would venture on to receive the presidential medal of freedom and congressional gold medal, both being in 1971.

The ‘I have a dream’ speech delivered by Martin Luther King Jr in 1963, invites his audience of over 250,000 civil rights activists to put an end to racism and segregation in the USA. One of the worlds most iconic speeches, performed from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC was a momentous turning point for the equality of all Americans and one step closer towards a brighter future for generations to come.

Ronald Reagan was an American politician, actor and 40th president of the U.S. Reagan was raised in a poor family in northern Illinois who graduated from Eureka college in 1932. Throughout his career, Reagan worked on several radio stations, acted on a few major productions, moved into television until finally settling his career in 1962 as apart of the republican party. Building a network of supporters Reagan was elected as governor of California in 1966. After a very successful govern of California 14 years later, Reagan was elected as president of the United States, making himself the eldest U.S president elected up to that time.

Reagan’s “tear down this wall” speech, was an inspirational speech to the people of West Berlin. The speech was heavily influenced by the cold war, filled with political and military tension after world war 2, between powers in the Eastern Bloc and powers in the Western Bloc. Reagan's aim in his speech was to stop the animosity between Russia and the U.S.

The main theme of Ronald Reagan's speech was to address the people of West Berlin about the Berlin wall. Reagan's aim in his speech was to destroy the wall built by the communists. The reason for the wall being put up was to keep Germans escaping communist dominated East Berlin to the Democratic West Berlin. The distinction between the east and west sides of Germany was divided by the Berlin Wall, as well as Russia’s totalitarian policy. The totalitarian laws restricted people from Russia and eastern Germany, from a clean democracy throughout the, then divided Germany. The wall didn’t only affect Germany but acted as a symbol of the decades of cold war between the US and Russia, so Ronald Reagan wanted it down.

Both speeches use rhetorical and language devices throughout the course of their speeches. These devices create an easier understanding and acknowledgement of the, then current situations the speakers were addressing.

“I Have a Dream” as spoken by Martin Luther King makes significant use of imagery as King attempts to convince his audience about the immorality of racism and prejudice and its consequences. The first image he offers listeners concerns to light. King alludes to Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and then adds the metaphor that it is “a great beacon of hope to millions of Negro slaves”. The beacon it self exists as a religious image in the way it suggests hope and a sense of spiritual salvation. In contrast, King uses the image of hell when he says that the Negro slaves “had been seared in the flames of withering injustice”. Already King is preparing his audience for an extended speech about the greatest problem faced by The African-American people. Their low status in American society and the real world they inhabit.

The most persuasive part of King’s speech is the use of the extended metaphor. He introduces this extended metaphor by suggesting that the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence was “a promissory note” that all Americans had access to. King also argues that this note was promised to both Blacks and Whites. However, King then extends the metaphor when he tells his listeners, “America has defaulted on this promissory note”. Essentially, the message King is conveying through this use of extended metaphor is that this “promissory note” acts metaphorically as an unrepaid loan. Although this unrepaid loan was the freedom and equality for all Americans. What King does so successfully is to use this financial imagery as part of his rhetoric. Since America was, and still is today a capitalist society.

Ronald Reagans compelling “Berlin wall” speech incorporates several rhetorical techniques throughout its entirety. In the vast majority of his speech Reagan uses pathos, appealing to the repressed feelings of imprisonment and anguish that the west Berliners shared. Reagan also uses logos to state cold facts to breakthrough the disbelief and scepticism that some people held onto in regards to the Berlin wall. Reagan exclaims “behind me stands a wall that encircles the free sectors of this city”, he is clearly stating his views on the wall and of communism as he uses the wall as a metaphorical barrier to freedom. The use of pathos and logos allow the audience to understand Reagans anger and empathy towards issue. Reagan continues to make significant use of extended metaphor as he alludes to the wall being a barrier to freedom, and/or a wall restricting the free sectors of Berlin. Reagan begins his extended metaphor by criticising the Berlin wall and its purpose.  Within this extract of the speech, Reagan delivers two metaphoric points. The quote communicates that the wall restricts the freedom of the people within the wall from the Democratic west berlin, essentially encircling their freedom. Extended, the wall also restricts people inside from the free sectors of Berlin unable to live in a democratic society.

Reagan uses rhetorical devices to convey his audience to the meaning of freedom within Berlin. With the use of rhetorical devices, he allows the audience to consider the topic from a positive perspective. Reagan uses repetition and rhetorical question to allow the audience to see the situation from this positive perspective of hope and freedom. In the 10th, 11th, and 12th stanzas of his speech, Reagan repeats “freedom” to entitle the word with the reigns of prosperity, comity and peace. In the 12th stanza of the speech Reagan then uses rhetorical question to further
influence his audience into the positive changes Berlin is yet to face. “Are these the beginnings of profound changes in the Soviet state?”, this quote refers to Moscow’s positive changes now understanding the importance of freedom.

In contrast and comparison, both the “I have a dream” and “Berlin wall” speeches are ultimately delivered for the same message. Both speeches fight for equality and freedom among people and society. As the speeches both entail the same messages, they are yet so iconic and compelling in their own ways.

The Berlin wall speech is such an iconic and successful speech due to its deliverance. The deliverance of the speech entails techniques and tones that makes the audience relate and emphasise with the speaker. What gives Reagans speech such senses of confidence and positivity are due to several techniques used in his deliverance. What greatly assisted Reagans speaking was his younger years as an actor. Acting gave Ronald Reagan the ability to attract people’s attention and gained himself confidence. Throughout the course of the speech Reagan uses persuasive tone, a tone used when the speaker wants to persuade the audience to do or believe something. Essentially he emphasises on hope and freedom using his persuasive tone to attract the audience’s attention and belief. Not only does the use of persuasive tone attract the audience’s attention, but the use of dramatic pause. As Reagan pauses after words like freedom and hope it empowers the meaning of the words from the perspective of the listener. This empowerment of words brought on by the dramatic pause allows the audience to deeply understand and connect with the problem Germany was facing

What assists to make Reagans speech iconic and successful is his use of language. Constantly throughout the speech Reagan uses the German language. Reagan mixes in and uses German phrases to show his German audience that he does feel and care for the German people and to show that he respects their culture and language. What makes using German so successful and essential in the deliverance of the speech is so that the audience can emphasise with him whilst in his speech. Using German emphasises with the audience because they do not look at Reagan like a foreigner, but a German who can speak German as well as speaking of freedom and democracy.

Alike Reagans “Berlin Wall” speech, the “I have a dream” speech is iconic and compelling in similar and differing ways. Alike Reagan, King uses techniques, logical, ethical and emotional allusions to persuade the audience about the importance of the message he is giving. Although the deliverance of Kings speech differs from the “Berlin wall” speech as King has had personal relations with the problem being discrimination and segregation. Dr Martin Luther King was a very strong advocate for the civil rights of African Americans, being one himself. Throughout his speech King is able to explain his dreams and ambitions for an anti discriminative America. Kings uses emotional allusion as he draws on his own associations with the issue of racism, segregation and discrimination towards his race.

Throughout King’s speech, he uses logical allusion to convey the prejudice that the African American people are opposing. King explains that the African American people have received a “bad check” with insufficient funds. King continues, “we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt, and that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity in this nation”. This quote emphasises with the audience. Although King declares that his race received a “bad check”, he continues to say that America has “great vaults of opportunity”, essentially meaning they can make a great change. King creates a very optimistic mood, making the audience feel that they can play an individual role in the fight against segregation.

Martin Luther King had a very passionate tone while talking about freedom from segregation. King continues to mention his children throughout the course of his speech. This allows King to emotionally connect with his audience and show the impact and power that this segregation plays on himself and family. “I have a dream that one day my four little children will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character”. King portrays his ambitious dreams for his children. He includes his own kids in his speech to connect emotionally with the audience, and essentially make his speech more emotional. King was tired of his kids being downgraded from their peers, and wanted to share this dream with the audience to help them realize that they all share the same dream of wanting an equal future. King speaks out in his “I have a dream” speech to remind the audience that we are all human, we should be treated equally and as humanly as possible.

In conclusion, speeches have the ability to change the world. Both the “I have a dream” and “Berlin wall” speeches have each played huge roles in freedom fighting and equality. Each iconic and compelling in their own ways, they have fought for similar goals being hope and freedom. When delivered, both King and Reagan used many techniques to convey their message and to develop a stronger connection with the audience. Ultimately, their sense of leadership towards a change, bring hope, and maintain persistent to the problem have made the speeches so iconic and change the world for a better tomorrow.

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