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I Have A Dream

August 15, 2013

Figurative Language Examples in “I Have a Dream” Speech


*Note:  Examples can be described differently due to interchangeability of figures of speech.


Example Found



Five Score years ago

Rhetorical technique

Alludes to the Gettysburg Address



shadow symbolizes Lincoln watching over nation

great beacon light of hope


hope is compared to a big, shining light

seared in flames of withering injustice


injustice is compared to flames of a fire

long night of captivity


duration of blacks' oppression compared to night/night symbolizes darkness

100 years later…

parallel structure

repetition throughout paragraph

manacles of segregation


segregation wearing handcuffs like a human would

chains of discrimination


discrimination has chains like a human would

lonely island of poverty


compares poverty to an island

vast ocean of material prosperity


compares material prosperity to an ocean

corners of American society


compares society to a building with corners

we've come to "cash a check"


compares blacks asking for their equality promised them to cashing a



       check at a bank

architects of our republic


compares forefathers to someone who designs and builds buildings

signing a promissory note


compares forefathers writing the Constitution and Declaration of



       Independence to a bank note

life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness

rhetorical technique

alludes to the Declaration of Independence

defaulted on promissory note; bad check;


compares the treatment of blacks--non-equal status that should be equal

      insufficient funds


       to banking

bank of justice


compares justice to a bank

great vaults of opportunity


compares opportunity to a bank with vaults

cooling off


refers to a "getting over" it period of time; not being upset

tranquilizing drug of gradualism


compares gradualism to a drug

Now is the time…

parallel structure

repetition of phrase throughout paragraph

valley of segregation


compares segregation to a valley

sunlit path of racial justice


sunlit path describes the better life of racial equality

Quick sands of racial injustice


compares injustice to quicksand

solid rock of brotherhood


compares brotherhood to being solid togetherness

sweltering summer of the Negro's legitimate


compares the duration of the Negro's unrest with their treatment to a hot,



         agonizing summer

invigorating autumn of freedom and equality


compares changing to freedom and equality to a change in seasons from



         summer to autumn

blow off steam


refers to voicing one's discontent then returning to how it is

business as usual


return to how things are and will always be if change does not occur

whirlwinds of revolt


compares revolting to a whirlwind

shake the foundations


compares our nation's Constitutional beliefs to something that can be shaken

bright day of justice


compares the time when justice will emerge to a bright day

stand on the warm threshold...palace of      



compares the approaching change of equality for all to that of entering a palace

cup of bitterness and hatred


compares bitterness of hatred to a cup that people drink out of

high plane of dignity and discipline


compares dignity and discipline to a high flying plane symbolizing the feeling



        one has if they possess dignity and discipline to someone who does not

tied up


something has everything to do with something else

their freedom is inextricably bound to ours


compares freedom of one people to being bound up to others-compares to



        something that can be bound/tied

When will you be satisfied?

rhetorical question

questions posed for thought rather than for an answer; draws reader in

justice rolls down like waters


compares justice to flowing water with the word like

righteousness like a mighty stream


compares righteousness to a mighty stream with the word like

storms of persecution


compares the realities of persecution to a storm

staggered by the winds of police brutality


compares police brutality to winds that blow over things

valley of despair


compares despair to a valley that is somewhat narrow and cages people up

I have a dream

parallel structure

phrase repeated throughout following paragraphs

We hold these truths to be self-evident…

Rhetorical technique

refers to Declaration of Independence

red hills of Georgia


red means fire, hot, unrest

table of brotherhood


table symbolizes togetherness, unity

heat of injustice and oppression


heat symbolizes hatred, upset

oasis of freedom


oasis symbolizes a paradise that freedom would give

lips dripping


compares words of hatred out of one's mouth with perhaps dripping blood

every hill and mountain made low


hills and mountains symbolize bad feelings; inequality

rough places made plain


unrest changed to rest

crooked places made straight


corruption done away with and justice prevails

mountain of despair


symbolizes the great feeling of unrest; discontent--despair

stone of hope


stone symbolizes something permanent like hope should be

jangling discord


sounds like something that is noisy like discord would be

symphony of brotherhood


compares brotherhood to a group of togetherness like a symphony of 



          instruments playing together

"My country 'tis of thee…"                                     

rhetorical technique

alludes to the popular American patriotic song

Let freedom ring

parallel structure             

repetition of phrase throughout paragraphs

"Free at last…"

rhetorical technique

refers to Negro spiritual



Martin Luther King, Jr. “I Have a Dream” Speech Lesson Plan


Created by:  Christi Thomas, Aurora Jr. High—Aurora, MO


A culminating project as part of the Teaching American History Grant: Traveling America’s 5 C’s The Civil Rights Movement



                     1.  Students will explain their understanding of the Civil Rights Movement.

                     2.  Students will discuss how the speech impacted the Civil Rights Movement and

                          the thinking of Americans and government officials.

                     3.  Students will identify and analyze literary devices used in the “I Have a Dream”                                      historical speech.


Grades:  5th thru 12th



          Carson, C.; Garrow, D.; Gill, G.; Harding, V.; Hine, D et al.  Eyes on the Prize Civil Rights 

               Reader.   Penguin Books, 1991.

          Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Movement.  PBS video set.  Blackside, Inc. 1986,


          Holland, Leslie j. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s I Have A Dream Speech in Translation:  What 

               It Really Means. Capstone Press, 2009.

          King, Martin Luther, Jr.  I Have a Dream. Scholastic, 2007. 

    Handouts:  --“I Have a Dream” speech

                         --Literary Terms to Know

                         --Example answer key—not for students      



  1. Write a paragraph explaining your understanding of the Civil Rights Movement.  Include the who, what, when, where, and why as each applies.
  2. Write a paper explaining the significance of the “I Have a Dream” speech.  How did it affect the Civil Rights Movement?  How were listeners affected including yourself. 
  3. Give an example of each of the following types of literary devices found in the speech and explain each.
  • Allusion
  • Idiom
  • Imagery
  • Metaphor
  • Onomatopoeia
  • Parallel Structure
  • Personification
  • Rhetorical question
  • Simile
  • Symbolism

Background Knowledge:  Students need to have a good understanding of the following…

  • What was the Civil Rights Movement?
  • Who was involved?
  • When did it take place?
  • Where did it take place?
  • What were the significant events that took place?
  • Plessy vs. Ferguson—Separate but Equal
  • Brown vs. Board of Education





       -Ku Klux Klan (KKK)


       -social injustice


Get Ready, Set, Learn Activity:

  • To demonstrate discrimination, devise a plan to show discrimination within the classroom.  Seating assignments, use of new vs. used materials, freedom of speech, etc.  Do not reveal the discrimination; just simply conduct activities as such.
  • Eventually students should start verbalizing the difference in treatment.  Allow to discuss.  Keep up the treatment throughout lesson to better convey the feelings, hostilities, etc. experienced by parties involved:


           --Those discriminating against

           --Sympathizers/those opposing the treatment of Blacks



  1.  Ensure that students have a good understanding of the Civil Rights Movement. View 

video clips from Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Movement as necessary, etc.  leading in to the analysis of the “I Have a Dream” speech.  Be sure to cover three premises:

  1.  What actually happened (events)?
  2.  What conditions existed back then versus today
  3.  What can be done to prevent it from happening again?  (Relevance of


  1.  Handout copies of “I Have a Dream” Speech.  Read together and/or play a recording of  

 the speech delivered by Martin Luther King, Jr. and discuss.

            --Students thoughts on the speech

            --Examples of a few literary devices used

  1.  Handout copies of “Literary Terms To Know” and discuss

            --clarify any terms necessary giving examples not specific to the speech


Independent/Group Activity

  1. In groups or individuals, have students find as many examples of literary devices they

                can in the “I Have a Dream” speech.  Devise a chart showing:

                                 --example found—should include different kinds of examples

                                 --type of literary device—should be a variety of devices

                                 --explanation—specifically what is being compared, alluded to, etc.


Whole Class Activity—check for understanding

  1. Discuss/compare findings as a class
  2. How many were found by group/individual?
  3. How did this speech impact the Civil Rights Movement?

          --Could listeners identify?  Explain.

          --What about the Crowd? Location?


Post-Assessment—same as Pre-Assessment
















Literary Terms to Know





-repetition of the initial consonant sounds in stressed syllables or words in a sequence; a “sound device”



  •  A reference to a well-known document, Bible verse, etc.



-an expression showing similarities between two things.  Shows relationships between relationships;  A:B::C:D, A is to B as C is to D


Cohesive devices

 – elements that bind writing together as a whole; cohesive devices include transitional words and phrases as well as repetition of key words and the use of “reference words” that point back to ideas in the text.



– a common word or phrase that is used in everyday speech;  colloquialisms may be specific to a geographic region; authors use colloquialisms to develop characterization (Examples: W’a's up?  Or What’s happenin?  Are colloquialisms for “How are you?”

http://www.galegroup.com/free _resources/glossary/glassary_bc.htm



– The attitude and emotional feelings associated with a word or ideas (Denotation is a ward’s literal meaning).



– A representation of the language spoken by the people of a particularly place, time or social group** regional dialect; spoken in a specific geographic region  ***social dialect:  spoken by members of a specific social group or class



 – figurative language in which exaggeration is used to convey meaning (understatement is the opposite of hyperbole)



 – Figurative language that appeals to the five sense; touch, taste, smell, hearing and sight; mental pictures evoked through use of simile and metaphor; sensory language



– Contrast or discrepancy (difference) between expectation and reality

  1. ramatic irony exists when information is known to the reader or audience but unknown to the characters
  2. ituational irony involves an occurrence that contradicts the expectations of the reader or audience
  3. erbal irony occurs when a writer or speaker says one thing but means the opposite




 – Technical terms, acronyms and language used by people of the same profession or specialized interest group.


Literary devices

 – literary elements; figures of speech.  http://www.uvsc.edu/owl/handouts/literary%20terms.pdf



– figurative language that makes a direct comparison between unlike things; a comparison that does not use the connective words “Like” or “As”



 – A sound device in which the word echoes or suggests its meaning, so that sound and sense are reinforce (hiss, splash, zap, whoosh)


Parallel Structure

– Parallelism; the deliberate repetition of similar or identical words and phrases in neighboring lines sentences, or paragraphs.  http://www.virtualsalt.com/rhetoric.thm



– Using one’s own words to express the main ideas in what has been read, seen, or heard



 – figurative language in which a non-living or non-human thing (animal, plant, object, natural force, emotion, idea) is endowed, given, human sense, characteristics and qualities



  • The repeating of words, phrases, etc. for emphasis in writing—see parallel structure


Rhetorical Technique

  • A device used by authors to emphasize; encompasses many types of techniques



 – Sound device marked by the repetition of identical or similar stressed sounds


Sensory details

 – Details that appeal to the five sense and evoke images of how something looks, sounds, feels, tastes, or smells; sensory details may be literal (descriptive language) or figurative (imagery).



 – Figurative language in which two unlike things are compared, using the words, like or as.



 – Informal words or phrases used in casual conversation



 – An object that holds a figurative meaning as well as its literal meaning; something that stands for something else; a representation of an abstract meaning





Text features

 – Parts, other than the body of the text, that designate special features (e.g. title, author, copyright, dedication); text organizers that provide structure and help readers locate information (e.g. page numbers, table of contents, captions, glossary, index, illustrations, graphs, charts etc.)



 – To picture the people, places and/or actions that an author describes in text; a reading strategy to increase comprehension of text



 – The distinctive tone or style of a particular writer; a reflection of the personality of the writer.


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