Thousands upon thousands of people marched on Washington and gathered around the Lincoln Memorial to hear this speech. It brought civil rights into the forefront of the political agenda and supported the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The speech itself follows a fairly specific pattern regarding the levels of the mind, as described in Northrop Frye’s “The Motive For Metaphor”:
At the level of ordinary consciousness the individual man is the centre of everything, surrounded on all sides by what he isn’t. At the level of practical sense, or civilization, there’s a human circumference, a little cultivated world with a human shape, fenced off from the jungle and inside the sea and the sky. But in the imagination anything goes that can be imagined, and the limit of the imagination is a totally human world. Here we recapture, in full consciousness, that original lost sense of identity with our surroundings, where there is nothing outside the mind of man, or something identical with the mind of man. Frye, Metaphor) As described, there are three levels of the mind;
The level of consciousness, the level of practical sense, and the level of imagination. All of which can easily be found in King’s “I Have a Dream” but first we must understand what the levels mean to understand their role in King‘s speech.. The first level of the mind is the level of consciousness or awareness. Frye does an excellent job in describing these levels by using a shipwreck scenario to use as metaphor to these levels. In the level of conscious awareness, you have just shipwrecked on an island and are faced with an objective world which is set against you.
You are not a part of this world, nor are you yourself. There is no interaction between you and the inhabitants of this island. You feel lonely and split from everything. Sticking with the same metaphor, the second level of the mind is the level of practical sense or social participation. This level is one where there is a difference between the world you are in and the world you want to be in. The objective world that was set against you in the first level is now considered home. You create your own world, you don’t become a part of the world you were first introduced to.
You have become something of a second rate animal to the other animals inhabiting the island. The third level of the mind is the level of imagination. You make your environment home and understand the difference between “me” and “everything else”. This is also the level of ordinary conversation. Anything that can be imagined, can be done. King’s speech starts off as describing the Negro as follows:
The Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. […] the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. King, Dream) This, taken directly from King’s speech, describes Negros much like the man or woman shipwrecked on an island. King describes the Negro as living in a world against them, an objective world. Much like the first level of the mind. This was not the world the Negro wanted to live in. In the second level of the mind, as previously stated, is knowing and understanding the world you’re living in isn’t the one you want to be living in. The objective world becomes “home”.
King states: In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. …] We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow or creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. […] [White people] have to come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. They have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone. (King, Dream) King knows what he wants and he knows that these two worlds, the Negro (the shipwreck) and the white people (the other inhabitants of the island) are coming together, and need to come together.
The Negro wants to feel at home. Finally King envisions a world that treats whites and blacks equally, which at the time was a radical idea. But not impossible: I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of it’s creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal. ” I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. […] I have a dream today. King, Dream)
King effectively uses the third level of the mind in imagination. To even have an idea like that was never considered in that time period. King was a captivating speaker and was mentioned as one of the greatest American orator amongst the likes of Roosevelt and Lincoln. It was his effective use of metaphor and levels of the mind that captivated his audience and become the face of civil rights across the world.