An allusion is a figure of speech that makes a brief reference, explicit or indirect, to a person, place or event, or to another literary work. It is left to the reader to make the connection; where the connection is detailed in depth by the author, call it a “reference.”
1. The writer’s decision between an allusion and a reference can make the difference to the reader’s understanding. For instance in “Letter from Birmingham Jail” if you don’t know who the Apostle Paul, John Bunyan (paragraph 31) or James Meredith (47) are, can you fully understand the allusions to them? Is a reference necessary?
2. Categorize King’s allusions/references. Why do you think he uses those categories and those people in particular?
A loose sentence is a type of sentence in which the main idea (independent clause) comes first, followed by phrases and clauses. The meaning of a loose sentence can be easily understood in the very beginning of the sentence, unlike a periodic sentence. (By far the most common type of sentence in the English language, and the most common sentences in “Letter from Birmingham Jail”)
A cumulative sentence begins with straightforward declarations and then adds on modifying details, distilling and refining the main statement. Sometimes the terms “loose” and “cumulative” sentences are used interchangeably, but in my opinion not all loose sentences are cumulative.
A periodic sentence is a sentence that is not grammatically complete until the final clause or phrase. Accomplished by the use of parallel phrases or clauses at the opening, or by the use of a succession of dependent clauses as modifiers preceding the independent clause, the periodic sentence unfolds gradually, so that the pollen of thought contained in the subject/verb group shows itself in full only at the sentence's end.
A balanced sentence is a sentence that employs parallel structure of approximately the same length and importance because the ideas have equal weight. Examples:
How would you describe this 317-word sentence from paragraph 14?
But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek 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 eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son who is asking: "Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?"; when you take a cross-country drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading "white" and "colored"; when your first name becomes "nigger," your middle name becomes "boy" (however old you are) and your last name becomes "John," and your wife and mother are never given the respected title "Mrs."; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you go forever fighting a degenerating sense of "nobodiness" – then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait.
How would you describe the third sentence from Paragraph 45?
You warmly commended the Birmingham police force for keeping "order" and "preventing violence." I doubt that you would have so warmly commended the police force if you had seen its dogs sinking their teeth into unarmed, nonviolent Negroes. I doubt that you would so quickly commend the policemen if you were to observe their ugly and inhumane treatment of Negroes here in the city jail; if you were to watch them push and curse old Negro women and young Negro girls; if you were to see them slap and kick old Negro men and young boys; if you were to observe them, as they did on two occasions, refuse to give us food because we wanted to sing our grace together. I cannot join you in your praise of the Birmingham police department.
How would you describe the effect of these sentences from paragraph 31?
But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you." Was not Amos an extremist for justice: "Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream." Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: "I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus." Was not Martin Luther an extremist: "Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God." And John Bunyan: "I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience." And Abraham Lincoln: "This nation cannot survive half slave and half free." And Thomas Jefferson: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal ..." So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love?
see close reading of Letter from Birmingham Jail, see