Check Your Understanding

Reread paragraphs 1 and 2. How does Kennedy reveal his point of view about Martin Luther King, Jr. to the audience? Highlight evidence of his point of view in the text and use the annotation tool to explain how his point of view is revealed in the sentences you’ve chosen.

The phrase in paragraph 1, “I have some very sad news for all of you, and, I think, sad news for all of our fellow citizens, and people who love peace all over the world…” shows that Kennedy is deeply upset by the loss of this great American figure. He demonstrates King’s importance by suggesting that King will be mourned across the country and all over the world. Similarly, the first sentence in paragraph 2, “Martin Luther King dedicated his life to love and to justice between fellow human beings…” shows his admiration for King and his work. He appears to suggest that King’s cause was a noble one.

In paragraph 2, Kennedy introduces his argument with a specific claim. Highlight the claim he makes in this paragraph. Also highlight Kennedy’s reasons for suggesting that some people might be tempted to take revenge in response to King’s death. Do his reasons for this assumption seem valid? Use the annotation tool to explain why or why not.

The following sentence in paragraph 2, “In this difficult day, in this difficult time, it’s perhaps well to ask what kind of nation we are and what direction we want to move in…” states Kennedy’s first claim. He supports the idea that there is a choice by showing reasons why some Americans might be tempted to choose a violent path. The sentence, “He died in the cause of that effort…” is one reason some people might seek revenge. Another reason is ” …there were white people who were responsible…” Although Kennedy has no proof that violence will occur, his reasoning that it might or could occur seems valid based on the facts that a major Civil Rights leader has been assassinated, and that this horrific act was committed by a white assassin or assassins.

Reread paragraph 3 and highlight places in the text where Kennedy uses the rhetorical devices of repetition and figurative language. What is he trying to emphasize through their use? Use the annotation tool to explain how his language reveals and communicates his purpose and point of view.

The second sentence in paragraph 3, “Or we can make an effort, as Martin Luther King did, to understand, and to comprehend, and replace that violence, that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand, compassion, and love…” is rhetorically very rich. Kennedy wants to persuade the American people that they have a choice. Knowing that they are sad and angry, he wants to steer them toward the peaceful choice. He uses figurative language, “that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land,” to imply how widespread, lasting, and damaging violence could be. His point of view, his perspective in the argument, is that Americans should move forward with compassion, love, and peace. He underscores that choice, and how hard it will be to choose the nonviolent path, later in the same paragraph by repeating the phrase “effort…to understand.” He also uses strong, contrasting words to appeal to the emotions, words such as “hatred” and “compassion.”

Kennedy states that he’s only going to speak for a few minutes. He later asks his audience to go home and say two prayers, and he repeats the recommendation to say a prayer in his last paragraph. What is his purpose in recommending prayer? Highlight the specific prayers he suggests. Use the annotation tool to explain why you think he suggests prayer. Support your answer with textual evidence.

T — a direction of compassion and understanding. Kennedy states that he wants his audience “to return home” and say a prayer for King’s family, a prayer for “our own country, which all of us love,” and, at the very end of his speech, “a prayer for our country and our people.” His repeated advice to pray is both religious–he quotes a poem which talks about God’s grace — and practical. He wants people to pray for solace for King’s family. In reminding listeners of King’s family, he is also reminding them of King’s ideals. Moreover, prayer is a peaceful, nonviolent, and quiet activity often associated with the values that Kennedy praises of “love, and wisdom, and compassion.” His purpose is to encourage people to contemplate those values rather than resorting to violence.

What types of evidence does Kennedy use to elicit empathy from the audience? Do you think the evidence is relevant and sufficient to support Kennedy’s specific claims about the pain of loss? Highlight and summarize four instances in which Kennedy supports his claims with evidence. Use the annotation tool to identify the types of evidence and explain whether Kennedy’s reasoning based on the evidence elicits empathy from the reader.

Kennedy uses a poem, personal experience, personal observation, and a quote to elicit empathy from the reader about the pain of loss. These different pieces of evidence offer varying levels of support for Kennedy’s argument. (1) Kennedy quotes a poem by Aeschylus as evidence to support his argument. This evidence supports his argument well because it asserts that patience and wisdom can be achieved even through pain and suffering, which is what Kennedy is suggesting. Also, the poem is ancient wisdom that has endured and still has meaning in the modern world. (2) Kennedy shares a personal experience about the murder of his family member. This experience is in part a rhetorical device to establish a bond. However, it is also evidence in support of his argument for a nonviolent direction. He explains that the killer in his brother’s case was a white man to show that violence and hatred are not always tied to racial issues, and that citizens don’t have to embrace racial hatred to heal. In sharing the experience of his brother’s death, he is holding himself up as evidence that it’s possible to seek understanding rather than revenge. (3) Kennedy uses a personal observation that “…the vast majority of white people and the vast majority of black people in this country want to live together, want to improve the quality of our life, and want justice for all human beings that abide in our land…” to support his claim that “…We can do well in this country…” This personal observation does not really provide proof to support his argument. Instead, it an emotional appeal to the audience’s feelings, an expression of what Kennedy wants to believe. Kennedy’s reasoning here may be fallacious, because he’s stating as fact something that would be difficult to prove without doubt. However, it’s a hopeful message that most people would definitely want to believe is true. The statement is persuasive rhetoric if not factual proof in the service of Kennedy’s argument. (4) Kennedy uses a Greek quote to support his argument. Like the poem, this is strong evidence to include because it shows that the beliefs of an ancient society still apply to current human society, and it presents an idea—we must strive for a peaceful life—that most people would agree with and want to achieve.