The literary work of both King and Baldwin focus on similar issues of segregation, racism and the maltreatment of African Americans. In A Letter From Birmingham Jail King addressed a group of white clergy who criticized him for the protests he arranged.
King uses rhetoric and his knowledge as a reverend to argue his point that the protest are necessary for change. While King had a specific audience in mind this did not stop the letter from being able to apply to all white people on a national scale. Baldwin on the other hand is dealing with the death of his father and he uses this as inspiration to learn about his father’s life and his reason for paranoia. Both King and Baldwin employ similar techniques to persuade their audience to take their stance. For example both authors apply the use of repetition, Baldwin includes his experience at multiple restaurants in which he was denied service because of the color of his skin, baldwin included the repetition of the phare “we don’t serve negroes here” accustomed to this Baldwin states that the phrase stuck in his head like ringing bells, Baldwin includes the repetition of this phrase for this purpose exactly, in hopes that it would stick in the reader’s mind as it did for him.
King had a similar use of repetition in his writing but it was for somewhat of a different effect. King repeated the term “Justice” all over the letter, this was to reinforce his point to the reader that African American were being mistreated and to emphasize the urgency of the issue. Although there are many similarities between the two works of literature, there are also many differences. The first distinction that can be made between the two writings is the audience, Baldwin’s essay is targeted towards a mostly black audience that can relate with his despair, while King’s letter targets a white audience and specifically the white clergy that criticized him, King in his letter urges to take action and not to sit idly by. Another difference between the two writings is the use of imagery and biblical allusion, baldwin’s writing is riddled with visual imagery describing the riots or his experiences with discrimination. In contrast King’s letter is fairly limited in the use of imagery but it is filled with biblical allusions, here King uses his experience as a reverend to use religion is a justification for his stance and since this is really the one thing that he and his targeted audience have in common it helps him connect with them.
For example, in the opening sentence of the letter King compares his work to that of the prophets in the eighth century B.C. this invokes sympathy from his reader. Although Baldwin has a religious background much like King’s, it is not as present nor is the use of his background similar to King’s. Another distinction is in the belief of the author’s, while describing a riot Baldwin sympathizes with the riots but ultimately realizes the infectivity of it and that it ironically only hurts African- Americans. While King shares the belief that violent protest is ineffective, he would not sympathize with rioters since he was strongly against violent protest.
King believed that if one finds a law unjust they should take a stand against it but only if they’re willing to accept the consequences that follow. Baldwin however, believes in a rage that exists inside all African-Americans as a result of their oppression, and he himself is no stranger to this rage, for example he described a time when he was so angry that he was denied service that he threw a water-mug at the waitress.