Reader's Analysis: Author, Purpose, Audience, and Meaning

Civil Rights era image of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the March on Washington.
Understanding the historical context in which an author composes a persuasive text is vital to understanding the text's message.
A photo of Dr. King in the Birmingham jail.
Among Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s most eloquent defenses of the nonviolent campaign for Civil Rights is the 1962 "A Letter from a Birmingham Jail."
A montage of photos from the Civil Rights era featuring Dr. King.
Dr. King's letter is a great example of the power of persuasion – his use of language, style, and rhetorical appeals. He expertly presents his claims and support in contrast to potential counter-arguments.
Photo of original copy of Dr. King's letter written from the Birmingham jail.
In this assignment, you too will be drawn into the message to understand the audience, purpose, and the context of that time, to gain insights into the construction of persuasive text, and to study an American masterpiece of rhetorical skills and techniques.

About this Assignment

In reading and researching Martin Luther King Jr.'s "A Letter from a Birmingham Jail," in which he addresses criticism of his actions, you will:

  • Identify and analyze the writer's purpose and message to the intended audience.
  • Identify the historical context of the piece and draw inferences about how prevailing public opinions or concerns influenced the writer.
  • Analyze the writer's use of claims, support, and rhetorical strategies to ensure that the readers understand his or her message, to evoke emotions from the readers, and to influence readers.