How does the style and content of Malcolm X's description of learning to dance connect to the text's power?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Malcolm's description of learning to dance shows a lack of autonomy. It enhances the text's power in how it underscores the danger of mistaking illusion for reality.  

Malcolm describes his appropriation of dancing skill in a unique way. Malcolm learned to dance almost by accident. It took place without his control:

I can't remember when it was that I actually learned how-that is to say, I can't recall the specific night or nights. But dancing was the chief action at those "pad parties," so I've no doubt about how and why my initiation into lindy-hopping came about. With alcohol or marijuana lightening my head, and that wild music wailing away on those portable record players, it didn't take long to loosen up the dancing instincts in my African heritage. All I remember is that. . . some girl grabbed me—they often would take the initiative and grab a partner, for no girl at those parties ever would dream that anyone present couldn't dance—and there I was out on the floor.

Malcolm learns to dance because he attended "pad parties." No one actively taught him. Even if someone did instruct him, he would not have remembered because of his drug use. He also indicates that he learned to dance because his "African heritage" was released. Once he "loosened up," Malcolm "was out on the floor." He does not display much in way of agency. Rather, Malcolm describes his dances as "impulses" that "were stirred by music." 

This description enhances the power of the text's meaning. In this portion of his narrative, Malcolm emphasizes how he was unaware of the conditions that surrounded him. He had no idea he was being manipulated into living a morally bankrupt existence. He had little understanding about the realities of being a person of color in a nation that displayed prejudicial attitudes. He was not conscious of his own spiritual deterioration. These are lessons the text emphasizes.  

In describing how he learned to dance, Malcolm communicates what it is like to live a life without purpose. His description shows the randomness of life when a person mistakes temporary illusion for permanent reality. Malcolm lived his life believing that "pad parties," drugs, and excessive socializing were valid ways of life. This description enhances the text's power because it communicates how people who live like Malcolm lack control over their existence. It highlights the challenges facing people of color in America at the time.  Such a description serves as a clear call for people to recognize what is wrong and change it as soon as possible.

Read the study guide:
The Autobiography of Malcolm X

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