Synthesizing Strategies for Analyzing Arguments
Read the two letters presented in Chapter 10: “A Call to Unity: A Letter from Eight White Clergymen” and “Letter from Birmingham Jail” and present a brief analysis of ONE of the texts. Use the focus topics listed on pages 287-288 to narrow your discussion. The focus topics ask you to discuss rhetorical situation, organization, claims, logical proofs, emotional proofs, proofs that establish ethos, warrants and backing, fallacious reasoning, and ethics. Please note that you are not required to respond to all of these focus questions. Choose 2 or 3 related topics and try to develop your response by reference to specific passages in the letter you choose.
Reading for the Argument Analysis Paper
1. 10.1 Use key points about argument and argument theory to analyze a text.
Use the following information to help you read and analyze the King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail”:
1. The rhetorical situation for the letter is detailed below. Read this section first to help you situate this letter in its historical context.
2. Focus topics that identify relevant argument theory are listed along with directed questions following the section on the rhetorical situation of the letter. When you finish reading the letter, you should be able to answer the questions that accompany each of the topics. A group work and discussion exercise to help you understand and work with these topics is provided on page 301.
3. Questions appear in the margins of the letter that will direct your attention to various argumentation techniques and methods that King employs. Answer these questions as you read. Your answers will help you understand the letter, respond to the questions that accompany the topics, and gather the information you will need to write your paper. Underline the information in the letter that answers the questions in the margins. Write your own insights and thoughts in the margins. These activities will help you generate plenty of material for your paper.
Rhetorical Situation for “Letter from Birmingham Jail”
Birmingham, Alabama, was a profoundly segregated community in 1963. Black people were allowed to sit only in certain parts of buses and restaurants, they were required to drink from separate water fountains, and they were not allowed in white churches, schools, or various other public places. The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. was a well-known minister in the black Baptist church and a leader in the civil rights movement at that time. The purpose of the movement was to end segregation and discrimination and to obtain equal rights and access for African Americans in the United States, but especially in the South.
Dr. King and others carefully prepared for demonstrations that would take place in Birmingham in the spring of 1963. The demonstrators began by “sitting in” at lunch counters that had never served blacks before and by picketing stores. Twenty people were arrested the first day on charges of trespassing. The civil rights leaders then applied for permits to picket and stage protests against the injustices of discrimination and segregation. They were refused permission, but they demonstrated and picketed anyway. Dr. King was served with an injunction granted by a circuit judge. It said civil rights leaders could not protest, demonstrate, boycott, or sit in at any facilities. King and other leaders decided that this was an unfair and unjust application of the law, and they decided to break the law by ignoring the injunction
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was jailed more than once during the civil rights movement. In this 1960 photo, police in Atlanta, Georgia, are taking him to court in handcuffs for participating in a sit-in at a segregated lunch counter in a department store. He was sentenced in this instance to four months of hard labor and was released on bail pending appeal only after Bobby Kennedy 1 phoned the judge.
Robert Kennedy, brother of President John F. Kennedy, was the U.S. Attorney General at this time.
King himself decided to march on Good Friday, and he expected to go to jail. (As the photograph and caption document, Dr. King had long been aware that nonviolent civil disobedience required acceptance of any consequent punishments so as to create the tension of protest.) Indeed, before he had walked half a mile, he was arrested and jailed, along with fifty other people. King stayed in jail for eight days. During that time, he wrote his famous letter. It was written in response to a letter signed by eight white clergymen that had been published in a local newspaper. These clergymen had written to Dr. King to urge him and his supporters to exercise restraint in their protests, emphasizing the clergymen’s belief that efforts to challenge racism and segregation should proceed slowly.
After King left jail, there were further protests and some violence. Thousands of people demonstrated, and thousands were jailed. Finally, black and white leaders began to negotiate, and some final terms were announced on May 10, 1963. All lunch counters, restrooms, fitting rooms, and drinking fountains in downtown stores were to be desegregated within ninety days; blacks were to be hired in clerical and sales jobs in stores within sixty days. The many people arrested during the demonstrations were to be released on low bail, and permanent lines of communication were to be established between black and white leaders. The demonstrations ended then, and the city settled down and began to implement the agreements
Focus Topics to Help You Analyze the Letter
Answer the questions that accompany the eight focus topics listed. Use the questions in the margins of the letter to help you locate the information you need to address the questions as well as suggestions posted under each topic.
1. Rhetorical situation. Consider each of these points.
a. What is the exigence for this letter? What caused the author to write it? What was the problem? Was it a new or recurring problem?
b. Who is the audience for this letter? What is the nature of this audience? Can it be convinced? What are the expected outcomes?
c. What are the constraints? Speculate about the beliefs, attitudes, habits, and traditions that were in place that limited King. How did these constraining circumstances influence the audience for his letter at that time?
d. Think about the author of this letter. Who is he? Speculate about his background, experience, affiliations, and values. What motivated him to write?
e. What kind of text is the letter? What effect do its special qualities and features have on the audience?
f. Think about yourself as the reader. What is your position on the issue? What constraints affect the way you read about it? Do you perceive common ground with King? If so, describe it. Are you influenced by this letter? How?
2. Organization and claims. Divide the letter into its main parts. What is the subject of each part? Why have the parts been placed in this particular order? What is the relationship between them? What is the main claim? What types of claims are they? What are some of the subclaims? What types of claims are they?
3. Logical proofs and style. Analyze the use of logical proof in the letter. Provide examples. Describe their effect on the audience. Provide an example of the language of rational style in the letter.
4. Emotional proofs and style. Analyze the use of emotional proof in the letter. Provide examples. Describe their effect on the audience. Provide an example of the language of emotional style in the letter.
5. Proofs and style that establish ethos. Analyze the use of proofs that establish ethos or credibility in the letter. Provide examples. Describe their effect on the audience. Provide an example of language that establishes ethos in the letter.
6. Warrants and backing . Identify the warrants (both logical and contextual) in the letter. What appeals to community values provide backing for the warrants? How much common ground do you share with the author? Do you find the letter convincing? Why?
7. Fallacious thinking and rebuttals. Provide examples of reasoning that might be considered fallacious or wrongheaded. What rebuttals would you make in response?
8. Ethical or unethical. Does the author make an adequate effort to understand the issue and its consequences? Is this support fair, accurate, and/or convincing? Can you, as the reader, accept the warrants? Can you accept the references to community values that serve as backing for these warrants? Should the claims be qualified if they are not already?