Critical Insights: Martin Luther King Jr.
This volume examines both the speeches and writings of Martin Luther King, Jr., highlighting a variety of interpretive approaches, including rhetorical analysis, close reading, and explorations setting King's work in social, cultural, historical, and political contexts.
Martin Luther King Jr. is remembered today not only as one of the most important political and cultural figures in American history but also as one of America’s most effective public speakers. This volume, then, is especially concerned with King the rhetorician and writer. Various essays examine a number of King’s most significant speeches in detail, studying his use of metaphors, proverbs, contrasting phrases, balance, imagery, allusions, and numerous other techniques as well as the ethical, racial, and social dimensions of his work.
The book also explores the impact King had on people who knew, heard, and read his words while he was still living as well as the influence he has had on later writers, including poets and novelists. All in all, the volume seeks to offer a comprehensive approach to numerous facets of King’s accomplishments as an author and an orator. The book opens with an introductory self-interview with Keith D. Miller, perhaps the most noteworthy student of King’s oratory. Miller asks and answers numerous questions likely to be of interest to both first-time and veteran readers of King. His accessible, wide-ranging comments help explain the impact previous authors and speakers had on King’s own writing and rhetoric. Miller also charts important developments in scholarship dealing with King as a master of words. In addition, he notes opportunities for significant new scholarship, both in relation to King and in relation to less famous figures from the civil rights era. Miller’s interview is followed by a brief biography of King prepared by Simran Kumari, who charts the major developments in King’s life.
As in all volumes in the Critical Insights series, the introductory pieces are followed by four contextual essays dealing, respectively, with historical contexts, critical reception, a particular analytical perspective, and comparative analysis.
The Critical Readings section—the longest portion of the book—offers a deliberately diverse group of essays that use many different methods. The section opens, for instance, with a second essay by Nicolas Tredell, who this time explores King’s works in relation to the theme of intertextuality. Tredell notes that “King’s published sermons, speeches, public letters, and articles are packed with intertextual references in the form of direct quotations from, allusions to, or echoes of classical, biblical, early modern and nineteenth- and twentieth-century literary, political, philosophical, and theological writings.” He mentions, “for example, those of Plato, Aristotle, and Epictetus; the Old and New Testaments; Shakespeare and Donne; Tennyson and Arnold; James Russell Lowell, Emerson and Thoreau; Frederick Douglass and Paul Dunbar; and T. S. Eliot.” Tredell’s essay examines “a selection of significant intertextual references in key King texts.”
Like the other volumes in the Critical Insights series, this one closes with various resources, including a chronology of King’s life, a listing of his works, a secondary bibliography, profiles of the editor and the contributors, and a comprehensive index. Taken all together, these resources and the preceding essays will, ideally, provide readers with a diverse, up-to-date, and suggestive guide to King’s speeches and writings and to the responses they have evoked from others.