Form and Content (Masterplots II: African American Literature, Revised Edition)
The Autobiography of Malcolm X is an interesting and exciting book. Although it is based on fact, it reads like a novel. It tells the story of a young African American who inherits the gifts of courage and self-reliance from his father and mother and rises to international prominence despite overwhelming odds. As a child, Malcolm often went hungry. His father, an itinerant preacher, was constantly moving because of threats from white bigots who resented his espousal of the back-to-Africa program of Marcus Garvey. Malcolm’s worldview was forever affected by his memories of late-night raids by the Ku Klux Klan and his father’s murder by members of another white supremacist organization called the Black Legion. His widowed mother eventually suffered a nervous breakdown under the strain of trying to rear eight children on welfare, and she had to be institutionalized. Malcolm became a virtual orphan and a ward of the state.
Along with his remarkable strength of character, the young African American child was exceptionally intelligent and got outstanding grades in the nearly all-white schools he attended. His academic success motivated him to achieve financial success, but he soon realized that most doors were shut to African Americans at that time. Eventually, he drifted into a life of crime. His book is full of interesting, often shocking, anecdotes, and many of these have to do with his adventures as a con artist, pimp, gigolo, drug peddler,...
(The entire section is 1233 words.)
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Form and Content (Masterplots II: Nonfiction Series)
In The Autobiography of Malcolm X, written in conjunction with Alex Haley, Malcolm X reveals his early life as a big-city hustler, defends his view of the white man as “the devil” and his conversion to Islam, and explains his eventual abandonment of the black separatist movement (which in its most extreme mode called for the United States Congress to grant land for a black state) in favor of a “Human Family,” a “Human Society” united under the one God and the one moral code of Islam. His purpose, simply put, was to invoke social change in America: “I have given to this book so much of whatever time I have because I feel, and I hope, that if I honestly and fully tell my life’s account, read objectively it might prove to be a testimony of some social value.”
At midpoint in the work, Malcolm states that his whole life “had been a chronology of—changes,” and his autobiography is an attempt to chronicle and explain these changes. The nineteen chapters of the autobiography can be thematically grouped into three parts. The first nine chapters chronicle Malcolm’s youth and adolescence in the Midwest, focusing on the strength of family relationships and hardships suffered from conflicts with the white community. Chapters 10 through 16 are devoted to his conversion to Islam and his rise and fall from power within the organization led by Elijah Muhammad, the Nation of Islam. In chapters 17 and 18, Malcolm recounts his trip to Mecca...
(The entire section is 1198 words.)
Form and Content (Masterplots II: Juvenile & Young Adult Biography Series)
In nineteen chapters, The Autobiography of Malcolm X traces his life from his birth as Malcolm Little in Omaha to his troubled youth and eventual imprisonment to his ultimate emergence as one of the most important and powerful voices for social change and black rights in the 1950’s and 1960’s. An introduction by M. S. Handler and an epilogue by Malcolm’s collaborator, Alex Haley, furnish perspectives on Malcolm as well as on the events leading up to and following his assassination in 1965. The book ends with a brief tribute to Malcolm by actor Ossie Davis, who delivered the eulogy at Malcolm’s funeral.
The first half of the autobiography outlines Malcolm’s youth, the breakup of his family, and his life on the streets. At age six, Malcolm lost his father, who was presumably murdered by white supremacists angered at Earl Little’s preaching of Marcus Garvey’s “back-to-Africa” philosophy. Six years later, Malcolm’s mother was placed in a mental institution, where she remained for twenty-six years, and her eight children were separated and sent to various foster homes. At fourteen, Malcolm quit school and went to live with his half sister Ella in Boston. Eventually moving to Harlem, Malcolm became a hustler, drug dealer, and finally leader of a burglary ring.
It was during six years of imprisonment for robbery that Malcolm’s life irrevocably changed. Introduced to the religion of the Nation of Islam, Malcolm began...
(The entire section is 451 words.)
Struggle for Civil Rights in the 1950s and 1960s
Until a number of court cases struck down segregation of the races in the United States, blacks were barred or restricted—sometimes by law—from a variety of public venues, such as restaurants, neighborhoods, golf courses, schools, and movie theaters. The 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka made separate schools for blacks illegal. Over the next couple years, the Supreme Court handed down a series of decisions invalidating segregation of golf courses, swimming pools, and beaches.
Some historians see Rosa Parks's spontaneous 1955 refusal to give up her seat in the front of a Montgomery, Alabama, bus to a white man as the first step in the American civil rights movement. Parks, an African-American woman, was arrested and fined for violating the city's segregationist laws about where she was allowed to sit. Four days later, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a young Baptist minister in Montgomery, urged a local bus boycott, and various black organizations supported his effort. By 1956, the boycott supporters won a small but critical victory when a federal district court issued an injunction prohibiting the racial segregation of buses in Montgomery.
The boycott and subsequent events catapulted King into the national limelight as a civil rights leader. During the Montgomery protest, King was jailed and his house was bombed. King's philosophy of...
(The entire section is 1089 words.)
Chapter 1: Nightmare
1. Where were Malcolm’s parents from?
2. What was the Black Legion?
3. Where did Reverend Little keep his pistol?
4. Why did Malcolm think that his father favored him over his other children?
5. Why was the Little family “better off” than most black families in East Lansing, Michigan?
6. Why did one insurance company refuse to pay off the life insurance policy of Reverend Little?
7. What strategic lesson did Malcolm learn from his rabbit-hunting expedition?
8. Why did Malcolm like to visit the Gohannas family?
9. How did Malcolm feel about his older sister Hilda?
10. How long did Louise Little remain in the state mental hospital in Kalamazoo, Michigan?
1. Malcolm’s father was from Reynolds, Georgia and his mother was from Grenada, in the British West Indies.
2. The Black Legion was a hate society of white racists in Lansing, Michigan.
3. Reverend Little’s pistol was hidden, kept sewn up in a pillow.
4. Malcolm thought that his father favored him because he was his father’s lightest-colored child. He felt that his father had been subconsciously brainwashed by white men into preferring lighter-skinned blacks.
5. The Little family built a small house in East Lansing, Michigan and raised much of their own food.
6. The insurance...
(The entire section is 297 words.)
Chapter 2: Mascot
1. What was the outcome of Malcolm’s boxing matches with Bill Peterson?
2. Why was Malcolm expelled from school?
3. In what extracurricular activities did Malcolm participate in Mason Junior High School?
4. Where did Malcolm work after school?
5. What were Malcolm’s favorite subjects in school?
6. What did Malcolm think was unique about his half-sister Ella?
7. How did Ella become financially successful?
8. How did Malcolm feel after Ella’s suggestion about the Little family visiting their mother? Why?
9. What professions did Mr. Ostrowski encourage Malcolm’s classmates to pursue?
10. Where did Malcolm go to listen to music when he visited Boston?
1. Bill Peterson won both boxing matches.
2. Malcolm was expelled because he placed a thumbtack on his teacher’s chair.
3. Malcolm was a member of the debating society and the junior high basketball team.
4. Malcolm worked in a local restaurant, washing dishes.
5. Malcolm’s favorite subjects were English and history.
6. Malcolm felt that his half-sister Ella was “the first really proud black woman” he had ever seen in his life.
7. Ella became financially successful by investing in real estate.
8. Malcolm was grateful and optimistic about Ella’s suggestion...
(The entire section is 237 words.)
Chapter 3: “Homeboy”
1. What does Ella want Malcolm to do when he arrives in Boston?
2. Who was Crispus Attucks?
3. What instrument does Shorty play?
4. What is a “slave”?
5. What was Malcolm’s first job in Boston?
6. Name four famous black jazz musicians who performed at Roseland.
7. What type of car does Freddie drive?
8. What is the first item that Malcolm buys on credit?
9. What is a “conk”?
10. What ingredients are necessary in order to conk one’s hair?
1. Ella wants Malcolm to get to know the city by walking around and traveling through it.
2. Crispus Attucks was a Negro and the first American patriot to be killed by the British in the Boston Massacre.
3. Shorty plays the saxophone.
4. A “slave” is a slang word for a job.
5. Malcolm’s first job in Boston was shining shoes at the Roseland State Ballroom.
6. The famous black jazz musicians who perform at Roseland include Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Lionel Hampton, Cootie Williams, Jimmie Lunceford, Johnny Hodges, Sonny Greer, Jimmie Rushing, Lester Young, Harry Edison, Buddy Tate, Don Byas, Dickie Wells, and Buck Clayton.
7. Freddie drives a pearl gray Cadillac.
8. The first item Malcolm buys on credit is a zoot suit.
9. A “conk” is a slang term for...
(The entire section is 235 words.)
Chapter 4: Laura
1. How does Ella feel when Malcolm quits his shoe-shining job? Why?
2. What is Shorty’s career goal?
3. What does Malcolm do the day after he quits his shoe-shining job?
4. Where does Malcolm work as a soda fountain clerk?
5. Where do Malcolm and Laura go on their first date?
6. What band is playing the second time Laura and Malcolm go to Roseland?
7. Where do Sophia and Malcolm go on dates?
8. What is a “rubber”?
9. How does Shorty feel about Sophia?
10. How does Ella feel about Sophia?
1. Ella is glad when Malcolm quits his shoe-shining job because she feels that the job had no prestige.
2. Shorty wants to start his own musical group and perform around Boston.
3. The day after he quits his shoe-shining job, Malcolm buys another zoot suit and gets his first barbershop conk.
4. Malcolm is a soda fountain clerk at Townsend Drug Store.
5. Malcolm and Laura go to a dance at the Roseland Ballroom on their first date.
6. The Duke Ellington band is playing the second time Laura and Malcolm go to Roseland.
7. Sophia and Malcolm go to dances and bars around Roxbury.
8. A rubber is a slang word for a car.
9. Shorty likes Sophia very much.
10. Ella does not like Sophia at all.
(The entire section is 208 words.)
Chapter 5: Harlemite
1. Why does Ella recommend Malcolm for the railroad job?
2. Why does Malcolm want the railroad job?
3. What is surprising to Malcolm when he visits Washington, DC?
4. Where does Malcolm stay on his first visit to Harlem?
5. What is Malcolm’s favorite drink?
6. Why isn’t Malcolm worried after being fired by the railroad company?
7. Whom does Malcolm visit in Kalamazoo, Michigan?
8. What is Malcolm’s first job when he moves to New York in 1942?
9. When did Harlem’s Cotton Club open?
10. Where does the “Lindy Hop” get its name?
1. Ella recommends Malcolm for the railroad job because she wants him to move out of Boston and stop dating Sophia.
2. Malcolm wants a railroad job because the job would provide him with free transportation to visit New York City’s Harlem.
3. Malcolm is surprised to find thousands of poor people living just a few blocks from Capitol Hill and the White House.
4. On his first visit to Harlem, Malcolm stays at the Harlem YMCA.
5. Malcolm’s favorite drink is a shot of bourbon.
6. Malcolm wasn’t worried after being fired because, during America’s war years, the economy was very strong.
7. Malcolm visits his mother, who is in a state hospital in Kalamazoo, Michigan.
(The entire section is 251 words.)
Chapter 6: Detroit Red and Chapter 7: Hustler
1. How did the burglar, “Jumpsteady,” get his name?
2. Why is Malcolm fired from Small’s Paradise?
3. How old is Malcolm when he becomes a drug peddler?
4. Why is Malcolm wary of taking Sophia out to Roxbury clubs?
5. Why does Malcolm begin traveling on railroad lines?
6. What caused the 1945 riot in Harlem?
7. What is West Indian Archie’s unique ability?
8. Why does Malcolm visit his brother, Philbert, in Michigan?
9. Who is Branch Rickey? Why are people in Harlem excited about Rickey’s recent decision?
10. What is Malcolm’s main job when he works for Hymie?
1. “Jumpsteady” gets his name from his days as a burglar when he jumped from the rooftops of buildings and maneuvered along window ledges.
2. Malcolm is fired from Small’s Paradise because one day, while at work, he gives an undercover policeman the telephone number of a prostitute.
3. Malcolm becomes a drug peddler when he is 17-years-old.
4. Malcolm is wary of taking Sophia out to Roxbury clubs because “the Boston cops used the war as an excuse to harass interracial couples, stopping them and grilling the Negro about his draft status.”
5. Malcolm begins traveling on the railroad lines because it is a safe way for him to sell marijuana to touring musicians.
(The entire section is 311 words.)
Chapter 8: Trapped and Chapter 9: Caught
1. What is Billie Holiday’s nickname?
2. Why does Shorty come to New York?
3. Why is Ella shocked when she sees Malcolm after he has moved back to Boston?
4. How much money does Malcolm’s cocaine habit cost him daily?
5. What is a “finder”?
6. Why does Malcolm decide to include white girls in his burglary operation?
7. Why does Malcolm often go to the Savoy nightclub after burglarizing homes?
8. How does Sophia’s husband find out about her relationship with Malcolm?
9. At the time Malcolm is arrested, who is at his apartment?
10. What is the attitude of Malcolm’s lawyer toward his arrest?
1. Billie Holiday’s nickname is Lady Day.
2. Shorty comes to New York after receiving a phone call from Sammy, telling him that Malcolm needs his help.
3. Ella is shocked when she sees Malcolm because she thinks he has become an atheist; he is uncouth and full of profanity.
4. Malcolm’s cocaine habit costs him $20 daily.
5. A “finder” is a person who locates wealthy homes to rob.
6. Malcolm decides to include white girls in his burglary operation for two reasons. First, he thinks white women would be good “finders.” Second, they would not “stick out like sore thumbs” in white residential areas.
7. Malcolm goes to the...
(The entire section is 275 words.)
Chapter 10: Satan
1. Where were Sophia and her sister sent?
2. When was the Charlestown prison built?
3. Who is Malcolm’s first visitor in prison?
4. What subjects does Malcolm study in his correspondence courses?
5. What is the reaction of the other inmates to Malcolm’s refusal to eat pork?
6. How many inmates does the Norfolk Prison Colony have?
7. Where was Elijah Muhammad born?
8. Where does Elijah Muhammad stay when he visits Detroit?
9. According to Elijah Muhammad’s teachings, from what tribe do America’s blacks descend?
10. Who was Master W.D. Fard?
1. Sophia and her sister were sent to the Women’s Reformatory at Framingham, Massachusetts.
2. Charlestown State Prison was built in 1805.
3. Ella was Malcolm’s first visitor in prison.
4. Malcolm studies grammar and Latin.
5. The other inmates are surprised at Malcolm’s refusal to eat pork.
6. The Norfolk Prison Colony has 1200 inmates.
7. Elijah Muhammad was born on a farm in Georgia.
8. Elijah Muhammad stays at the house of Wilfred, Malcolm’s brother.
9. America’s blacks descend from the strong black tribe of Shabazz.
10. Master W.D. Fard was considered a god, and gave Elijah Muhammad Allah’s message.
(The entire section is 188 words.)
Chapter 11: Saved and Chapter 12: Savior
1. Who was Nat Turner?
2. In addition to the United States, Malcolm names two countries whose non-white citizens have suffered as a result of white people. Name these countries.
3. What does the five-pointed Islamic star stand for?
4. Why does Malcolm begin to wear glasses?
5. What did Shorty do while he was in prison?
6. What does Malcolm buy when he is released from prison?
7. What are Elijah Muhammad’s recommendations to Malcolm about how to increase membership in the Nation of Islam?
8. Malcolm compares his visits with Elijah Muhammad with “Socrates on the steps of the Athens market place.” Explain the analogy.
9. Why was Elijah Muhammad forced to quit school?
10. How many children do Elijah Muhammad and his wife have?
1. Nat Turner was a slave preacher. In 1831, he led a slave insurrection, killing 57 white people. He was caught and hanged for the murders two months later.
2. India and China are the two countries Malcolm names.
3. The five-pointed Islamic star stands for justice and the five senses of man.
4. Malcolm begins wearing glasses because he developed an astigmatism in prison from reading in the dark.
5. Shorty studied and wrote musical compositions while he was in prison.
6. Malcolm buys a better-looking pair of glasses,...
(The entire section is 291 words.)
Chapter 13: Minister Malcolm X
1. How long does it take Ella to decide to convert to Islam?
2. What does Shorty do for a living?
3. What is the City of Brotherly Love?
4. What is the Muslims’ strict moral code?
5. When Malcolm conducts a funeral service, he explains that no tears are shed, and there are no flowers, singing, or organ-playing. What explanation does he offer for this?
6. What is the Muslim Temple’s Unity Night?
7. Describe the problem Betty X has with her foster parents.
8. Where do Malcolm and Betty get married?
9. How many children do Malcolm and Betty have? Name them.
10. What is the outcome of Brother Hinton’s injuries?
1. It takes Ella five years to decide to convert to Islam.
2. Shorty has a little band in Boston.
3. The City of Brotherly Love is Philadelphia.
4. The Muslims’ strict moral code forbids fornication, pork, tobacco, alcohol, and narcotics. Dancing, attending movies or sports games, taking long vacations, lying, stealing, and insubordination to civil authority are also forbidden. Domestic quarreling and discourtesy—especially to women—are not allowed.
5. Malcolm explains that the reason there are no tears, flowers, or music during a funeral service is because these were things that people gave to the deceased when he was alive. Now, there...
(The entire section is 323 words.)
Chapter 14: Black Muslims
1. As Muhammad’s emissary, what African countries does Malcolm visit in 1959?
2. What is the name of the television documentary that profiles the Nation of Islam?
3. What “demagogues” does Malcolm compare Muhammad to? Name three.
4. What national magazines run stories about the Nation of Islam?
5. Who coined the name “Black Muslims”?
6. According to Malcolm, what do America’s law enforcement agencies do to keep track of the Nation of Islam?
7. Aside from health concerns, why is Malcolm so adamantly against smoking?
8. What will the proposed Islamic Center in Chicago contain?
9. What type of health problems does Muhammad have?
10. Where does Muhammad live most of the year as a result of his health problems?
1. Malcolm visits Egypt, Arabia, the Sudan, Nigeria, and Ghana as Muhammad’s emissary.
2. The name of the television program is “The Hate That Hate Produced.”
3. Malcolm compares Muhammad to “demagogues” like Socrates, Jesus Christ, Gandhi, Galileo, and Martin Luther.
4. Life, Look, Newsweek, Time, and Reader’s Digest run stories about the Nation of Islam.
5. The name “Black Muslims” comes from the title of Professor Lincoln’s book, The Black Muslims in America.
(The entire section is 273 words.)
Chapter 15: Icarus
1. Who was Rosa Parks?
2. Why does Malcolm say it is “ridiculous” for Northern white and black Freedom Riders to demonstrate in the South?
3. What ethnic or religious groups does Malcolm use as examples of the problems with “assimilation”?
4. Who originally suggested having a March on Washington?
5. What song was sung during the 1963 Civil Rights’ March on Washington?
6. What two publications increased Malcolm’s popularity?
7. What situation does Malcolm cite to prove that Jewish people exploit black people?
8. Who does a New York Times poll indicate to be “the second most sought after” speaker at colleges and universities?
9. Who are the three most important prophets of the religion of Islam?
10. Malcolm believes that if he had not converted to the religion of Islam, his life would have been drastically different. What does he think he would have done?
1. Rosa Parks was an African-American resident of Montgomery, Alabama. In 1955, she refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white person. Her action touched off a local boycott that eventually desegregated Montgomery’s buses, and also inspired more people to join the civil rights movement.
2. Malcolm says it is “ridiculous” for Northerners to go to the South to demonstrate since black people have severe...
(The entire section is 339 words.)
Chapter 16: Out
1. Why does Betty have an argument with Malcolm?
2. In 1962, Malcolm refers to a “climate of hate” in the United States. What specific incidents is he speaking about?
3. Where do Malcolm and Muhammad make their last public appearance together?
4. How did Elijah Muhammad allegedly betray the Nation of Islam’s strict moral code?
5. What does Malcolm do to find out the truth about Elijah Muhammad’s alleged misconduct?
6. What directives are Muslim ministers given in response to the assassination of President John Kennedy?
7. How does Malcolm respond when asked his opinion about President Kennedy’s assassination?
8. Whom does Malcolm depend on for spiritual strength during his suspension from the Nation of Islam?
9. How does Malcolm think black people can gain political influence?
10. Who helps Malcolm finance his pilgrimage to Mecca?
1. Betty has an argument with Malcolm because she wants him to consider his family more and put away money for the future.
2. The specific incidents that Malcolm refers to are the assassination of N.A.A.C.P. (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) Field Secretary Medgar Evers in Mississippi, and the bombing of a black Christian church that killed four young black girls.
3. Malcolm and Elijah Muhammad made their last...
(The entire section is 346 words.)
Chapter 17: Mecca
1. What does Dr. Shawarbi give Malcolm before his departure to Mecca?
2. The first city Malcolm visits in the Middle East is Cairo. Describe this city.
3. What is the literal meaning of Hajj in Arabic?
4. Malcolm learns that rugs play an important role in the Muslim culture. Name the five ways Muslims use these rugs.
5. What important ritual do Muslims practice before prayer?
6. Where does Malcolm stay when he is in Jedda?
7. Why is Malcolm amazed by the hospitality of Dr. Azzam and his family?
8. At the conclusion of Malcolm’s pilgrimage to Mecca, where do he and his fellow pilgrims go?
9. What impresses Malcolm the most about his pilgrimage?
10. After his pilgrimage, to whom does Malcolm write?
1. Dr. Shawarbi gives Malcolm a letter of approval for his upcoming pilgrimage to Mecca. He also gives Malcolm a book, The Eternal Message of Muhammad, by Abd ir-Rahman Azzam.
2. Cairo is one of the most highly industrialized cities on the African continent. It has modern schools, housing developments, highways, and automobile and bus manufacturing industries.
3. The literal meaning of Hajj in Arabic is “to set out toward a definite objective.”
4. Muslims use rugs to pray, eat, sit, sleep, as a courtroom, and as a classroom.
(The entire section is 310 words.)
Chapter 18: El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz
1. What daily customs and routines does Malcolm begin to follow?
2. After his experiences, what recommendations does Malcolm have for African-American leaders?
3. Malcolm names two American authors who have “helped to spread and intensify the concern for the American black man.” Who are they?
4. Why does Malcolm voice suspicion when he finds out the United States’ State Department official, G. Mennen Williams, is visiting Africa?
5. In Lagos, Nigeria, Malcolm is given a new name by the Muslim Students’ Society. What is that name? Explain its significance.
6. What African country’s wealth and natural beauty impresses Malcolm the most?
7. What other prominent African–American leader visited Ghana before Malcolm?
8. Compare Casablanca’s famous Casbah with New York City’s Harlem. How are they similar?
9. When Malcolm uses the word “Negro,” he is corrected, and told to use the term “Afro-American” instead. Explain.
10. When asked about the reason for his split with Elijah Muhammad, what response does Malcolm give?
1. The Muslim customs that Malcolm begins to follow are ablutions before daily praying in a seated posture, in addition to eating from the same plates, drinking from the same glasses, and sleeping on the same rugs, with many people.
2. Malcolm recommends that...
(The entire section is 381 words.)
Chapter 19: 1965
1. Where does Malcolm hold many of his public meetings?
2. Malcolm cites two countries as having had a “revolution” to overthrow their old systems of leadership. What countries does he cite?
3. From where does the city of St. Augustine, Florida, get its name?
4. According to orthodox Muslim law, who was Muhammad ibn Adbullah?
5. While Malcolm is abroad in 1964, there is a campaign going on in the United States for President. Who are the two major candidates in that election?
6. What shocking F.B.I. statistic does Malcolm cite regarding crime in America?
7. What does Malcolm regret about his past?
8. What languages does Malcolm want to learn?
9. Which journalists does Malcolm consider to be “open and objective”?
10. If he is killed, whom does Malcolm think would be responsible?
1. Malcolm holds many of his public meetings in Harlem’s Audubon Ballroom.
2. The two countries that Malcolm cites as having had a “revolution” to overthrow their old systems of leadership are Egypt and Algeria.
3. St. Augustine, Florida, “is named for the black African saint who saved Catholicism from heresy.”
4. According to orthodox Muslim law, Muhammad ibn Abdullah lived in the Holy City of Mecca 1400 years ago. He was the last Messenger of Allah.
5. The two...
(The entire section is 314 words.)
Epilogue by Alex Haley
1. In what national publications do articles about Elijah Muhammad’s Nation of Islam first appear?
2. What was Malcolm’s first reaction to Alex Haley’s proposal about the publication of his life story?
3. What does Haley first ask Malcolm about that induces Malcolm to reveal intimate details about his life?
4. Next to college, where does Malcolm think is “the best place for a man to go if he needs to do some thinking”?
5. According to Haley, what is Malcolm’s opinion of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.?
6. By Malcolm’s calculations, what was the Nation of Islam’s membership before he joined? What was the membership 12 years later?
7. What are the goals of Malcolm’s new organization, the OAAU (Organization of Afro-American Unity)?
8. A New York Times opinion poll questioned New York City’s African Americans about their opinions on black leaders. What were the results of that poll?
9. Haley reports that Harlem’s residents were complaining about Malcolm X. What were their complaints?
10. When does an orthodox Moslem funeral service take place? Explain.
1. Articles about Elijah Muhammad’s Nation of Islam first appeared in Reader’s Digest, the Saturday Evening Post, and Playboy magazine.
2. Malcolm is startled and uncertain when Haley proposes...
(The entire section is 444 words.)
Malcolm X uses foreshadowing to highlight how far his life has taken him as well as to prepare his readers for disappointment and trauma. For example, early in the book he speaks of his successes as well as of his less admirable points. When he moves to Boston, he relates, he hears about Harvard Law School. "No one that day could have told me I would give an address before the Harvard Law School Forum some twenty years later,’’ he continues. A few sentences down the page, he hints, ‘‘I didn't know how familiar with Roseland I was going to become,’’ referring to the many nights he spent dancing and partying at the famed ballroom.
Malcolm X's references to his death increase as the autobiography moves toward its finale. Much of this, of course, has to do with his awareness that some in the Nation of Islam want him dead after his split from the organization; but Malcolm X's allusions to his own death are still remarkable in their context. For example, he says that he considers each day to be ‘‘another borrowed day’’ and that he is living each day ‘‘as if [he were] already dead.’’
Point of View
This autobiography was ‘‘told to’’ another party, Alex Haley, who edited and organized the information Malcolm X related to him in numerous conversations. Nonetheless, the book is written in the first person, with Malcolm X as the "I" in the story. It is written in a conversational...
(The entire section is 389 words.)
Compare and Contrast
1960s: In 1962, the Twenty-Fourth Amendment to the U. S. Constitution is proposed and, by 1964, is passed as law. One of its primary features is a ban on poll taxes in federal elections, giving the poor and many African Americans increased ability to vote. In 1965, the Voting Rights Act is passed, temporarily suspending literacy tests intended to restrict voting by African Americans and other minorities. Thanks to these two pieces of legislation, by the end of the decade there are 1,469 African-American elected officials in the United States, according to the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies.
Today: Currently, the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies reports that there are nearly nine thousand African-American elected officials in the United States.
1960s: Malcolm X claims that there are approximately four hundred thousand members of the Nation of Islam in the United States.
Today: Nearly forty years after Malcolm X's assassination, there are an estimated one hundred thousand Nation of Islam members.
1960s: In 1963, the ‘‘I Have a Dream’’ speech by Martin Luther King, Jr. galvanizes nearly 250,000 participants in the March on Washington to support pending civil rights legislation.
Today: Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan headlines the 1995 Million Man March on the Mall in Washington, D.C., that asks participating men to recommit...
(The entire section is 221 words.)
Topics for Further Study
The Autobiography of Malcolm X is a book that was "told to'' Alex Haley and published after Malcolm X's death in 1965. After finishing the book, conduct independent research on Malcolm X and his life, not using his autobiography. Do you find any important incidents that are missing from the book or things that others remember in a different way? Create a chart that shows your findings.
Investigate what was taking place in the United States and around the world from the late 1920s until the mid-1960s. Create a timeline that shows some important events for each decade and place them alongside important events from the autobiography.
Malcolm X, Elijah Muhammad, and Martin Luther King, Jr., were important African-American leaders during the 1950s and 1960s. Who are the important black leaders today? List three, and tell why you chose them.
Learn about the history of Islam and different forms of the religion practiced at different times and in different areas of the world. Make a chart showing the major forms of Islam, their important differences, and where they are practiced.
What do you think the rest of Malcolm X's life would have been like if he had not been murdered? Use what you know about him, and about the plans he had when he died, to write a one-page summary of what he might have done if he had lived to be an old man. Also, tell what the impact of his activities might have been.
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The Autobiography of Malcolm X was primary source material for 1992's Malcolm X, directed by Spike Lee and starring Denzel Washington as Malcolm X, Angela Bassett as Betty Shabazz, and Al Freeman, Jr. as Elijah Muhammad. Spike Lee and Arnold Perl wrote the screenplay, which was produced by Forty Acres and a Mule Film works. The movie was nominated for Academy Awards in the categories of best leading actor for Washington and best costume design.
James Baldwin adapted portions of the autobiography for a screenplay published by Dial in 1973, entitled One Day When I Was Lost: A Scenario Based on Alex Haley's Autobiography of Malcolm X.
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What Do I Read Next?
One Day When I Was Lost: A Scenario Based on Alex Haley's The Autobiography of Malcolm X, is a 1973 screenplay by James Baldwin.
With Ossie and Ruby: In This Life Together is the 1998 autobiography of Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee. This married couple recalls their fifty years of life together and their experiences on stage and screen starting in the 1940s. As well, they remember their years of political activism and the famous figures, including Malcolm X and Sidney Poitier, they befriended.
In his hugely successful book, Roots: Saga of an American Family, first published in 1976, Alex Haley retells the stories his grandmother told him about his family's past generations, going back to the young African relative brought to America as a slave. The book spawned a television mini-series and earned the 1976 National Book Award and a 1977 Lillian Smith Book Award.
Claude McKay's Home to Harlem, originally published in 1928, is the story of two young black men who have different reactions to the colorful street life of Harlem during the 1920s.
Alice Walker's 1976 book, Meridian: A Novel, tells the story of Meridian, a high school dropout and single mother who learns about herself as she becomes a daring civil rights worker.
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Bibliography and Further Reading
Berthoff, Warner, "Witness and Testament: Two Contemporary Classics,’’ in New Literary History, Vol. 2, No. 2, Winter 1971, pp. 311-27.
Breitman, George, ed. (with prefatory notes), Malcolm X Speaks: Selected Speeches and Statements. New York: Grove Press Inc., 1966.
Demarest, David P., Jr., ‘‘The Autobiography of Malcolm X: Beyond Didacticism,’’ in CLA Journal, Vol. 16, No. 2, December 1972, pp. 179-87.
Haskins, James, Profiles in Black Power, Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1972.
Holte, James Craig, ‘‘The Representative Voice: Autobiography and the Ethnic Experience,’’ in MELUS, Vol. 9, No. 2, Summer 1982, pp. 25–46.
Mandel, Barrett John, ‘‘The Didactic Achievement of Malcolm X' s Autobiography,'' in Afro-American Studies, Vol. 2, No. 4, March 1972, pp. 269-74.
Nelson, Truman, ‘‘Delinquent's Progress,’’ in Nation, Vol. 201, No. 15, November 8, 1965, pp. 336-38.
Ohmann, Carol, ‘‘The Autobiography of Malcolm X: A Revolutionary Use of the Franklin Tradition,’’ in American Quarterly, Vol. 22, No. 2, Summer 1970, pp. 129-49.
Spengemann, William, The Forms of Autobiography, Yale University Press, 1980, pp. 1-2.
Stone, I. F., ‘‘The Pilgrimage of Malcolm X,’’ in New York Review of Books, Vol....
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Bibliography (Masterplots II: African American Literature, Revised Edition)
Bassey, Magnus O. Malcolm X and African American Self-Consciousness. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 2005. Detailed study of Malcolm X’s effects upon racial identity and self-understanding in the United States.
Bloom, Harold, ed. Alex Haley and Malcolm X’s “The Autobiography of Malcolm X.” New York: Chelsea House, 1996. Compilation of essays by leading scholars analyzing Malcolm’s autobiography.
Evanzz, Karl. The Judas Factor: The Plot to Kill Malcolm X. New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press, 1992. The author accuses the federal government of harassing Malcolm X and suggests that intelligence agencies were behind the assassination plot because they were concerned about the international aspects of Malcolm X’s movement.
Friedly, Michael. Malcolm X: The Assassination. New York: Carroll & Graf, 1992. Describes the assassination and the trial of three accused Black Muslims. Analyzes various conspiracy theories, concluding that no U.S. government agency was involved in the assassination plot.
Gallen, David, ed. Malcolm X: As They Knew Him. New York: Carroll & Graf, 1992. Collection of memoirs and interviews describing the life and times of Malcolm X from personal observations and recollections. Contains a good chronological chart of important events in...
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