Martin Luther King, Jr.
and Henry David Thoreau
Both Civil Disobedience, by Thoreau, and Letter From A Birmingham Jail, by King, were effectively written. They call for two opposite needs; the need to be segregated, and the need to be accepted. King strives to prove the worth of his people as being equal to that of every other man, while Thoreau does his best to point out all the differences between himself and his fellow man. Both accomplished their goal, in a similar fashion despite their different points.
King and Thoreau used numerous references to Biblical passages. King made several general references, such as mentioning The Apostle John. Thoreau was much more specific, stating direct quotes from the Bible. Thoreau was more effective than King in this respect. He made to general vague allusions to the Bible, but instead, he quoted certain passages that helped to prove his point. One of the most effective was the quote "he that would save his life… shall lose it" (Matthew 10:39). This confirms Thoreau's belief that the selfish shall perish in the end. The Bible was and still is a highly respected book, and by using references to such a well know reference, both King and Thoreau strengthen their thoughts.
Both used an incredible amount of pathos, making their situations tangible to the reader. King was especially effective in this area. No one can ignore the emotional trauma that King and his people must be experiencing as shown through his writing.
"…when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you try to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she can't go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her little eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see the depressing clouds of inferiority begin to form in her little mental sky…" (King 213).
The images evoked by these words are heartbreaking to anyone who reads them. The words tug at one's soul and demand to be heard.
Thoreau constantly asks to be excluded from a society that readily accepts him. He even goes so far as to say that a prison is the only place fit for a just man; away from his corrupted society and placed where his principles are acknowledged. On the other hand, King is begging a society who automatically rejects his people to let them sit in their restaurants with them and drink a cup of coffee as equals. Each view has its own sense, as opposite as they may be. King needs to feel accepted because he sees everyone as being created equal. Thoreau doesn't want to be accepted because he feels that he is better than most other men.
Thoreau and King both agree that society needs to change its attitude towards people. Through appealing to emotion, referring to the most respected text of the time, and using their own powerful words to describe their plights, King and Thoreau have opened the eyes of many men.