How does Malcolm X's understanding of his own identity change over the different phases of his life?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One way in which Malcolm's identity changes over the different phases of his life is through education.  It is education that compels him to want to be "class president."  A different kind of education presents itself to him as the hustler, "Red," on the streets of Harlem, and yet another kind of education is presented as he is a thief in Boston. When he is sent to jail, an education dawns upon him as "Satan" and a new one enlightens him as "Brother Malcolm."  When he is a member of the Nation of Islam, Malcolm X receives education both in academic and practical terms about the world around him.  Finally, his spiritual education that becomes so intrinsic to El Hajj Malik el- Shabazz is where one can see that education and change are so strongly linked in the different phases throughout his life.

Along with this education is an awareness of human beings. Malcolm X changes throughout his life and undergoes different phases because he becomes increasingly aware of the people around him. Racism is a large part of this.  Yet, Malcolm X also undergoes changes in identity in different phases of his life through an awareness of human cruelty.  Malcolm changes when he sees the shortcomings of leadership in the Nation of Islam.  He changes when he sees the goodness of spiritual pilgrims in Mecca.  One of his most poignant changes is when he recalls the White college student who "wanted to help."  At an earlier phase of his life, Malcolm rebuked her in saying that there was "nothing" she could do.  Yet, as he grows older, there is a desire to reach out and tell her that there is much she can do, and much that needs to be done. It is this understanding of human beings that help to contribute to the change that Malcolm X undergoes in the different phases of his life.

Read the study guide:
The Autobiography of Malcolm X

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