What is the thesis statement for Malcom X's essay "Prison Studies?" 

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kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Malcolm X’s “Prison Studies” is actually adapted from Chapter XI of The Autobiography of Malcolm X, titled “Saved.” It is in this chapter that Malcolm describes his transition from uneducated but articulate spokesman to learned student of Islam and American history. If one were to suggest a thesis statement based upon this discussion, then, it could be: “Education is essential for the advancement of political and civil causes." As Chapter XI begins, Malcolm describes his repeated attempts during his prison sentence to write a letter to Elijah Muhammad, the leader of the Nation of Islam. He repeatedly writes the letter not because he does not know what he wants to say but because he literally cannot write. He is borderline illiterate. The response he eventually received from Muhammad had an important and visceral effect on the aspiring Black Nationalist. Malcolm informed his collaborator, Alex Haley, that Muhammad wrote about the importance of education:

“After he welcomed me into the ‘true knowledge,’ he gave me something to think about. The black prisoner, he said, symbolized white society’s crime of keeping black men oppressed and deprived and ignorant, and unable to get decent jobs, turning them into criminals.”

Malcolm’s frustration over his inability to articulate his thoughts and feelings on paper grew as he became increasingly committed to the Nation of Islam and Elijah Muhammad’s teachings. If the white man used the black man’s ignorance as a way of keeping him subordinate, then an educated black man posed the very threat to the white man’s oppression that Malcolm hoped for. Malcolm then proceeds to impress upon the reader the effort he made to educate himself, spending countless hours sifting through the prison library’s collections devouring literature. He transformed himself from an ignorant, semi-literate street hustler into an educated, articulate black man better prepared to advance the cause of blacks in America. The thesis of Malcolm X’s “Prison Studies, therefore, is the vital importance of education to advance one’s cause against an oppressive ruling majority.

literaturenerd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The essay "Prison Studies" appears in Malcolm X's The Autobiography of Malcolm X. The essay details the time Malcolm X spent in prison. During his time in prison, Malcolm X decided to educate himself (enough to make it look like he was a properly and institution educated man). His interest in education (particularly reading, writing, and speaking well) was sparked by another inmate (Bimbi-who Malcolm states made him "envious of his stock of knowledge").  

The introduction of Malcolm X's essay contains two sentences, neither which offer a solid thesis statement. In fact, the essay does not seem to offer one singular thesis at all. Instead, the essay offers four. As far as I can gather, Malcolm X desired his readers to identify four very important points within the essay:

1) "No university would ask any student to devour literature as I did when this new world opened to me, of being able to read and understand."

2) "As I see it today, the ability to read awoke inside me some long dormant craving to be mentally alive."  

3) "My homemade education gave me, with every additional book that I read, a little bit more sensitivity to the deafness, dumbness, and blindness that was afflicting the black race in America." 

4) "In fact, prison enabled me to study far more intensively than I would have if my life had gone differently and I had attended some college."

In the end, one can define the thesis upon his or her own: Malcolm wished readers to know that education is important and can be found (and achieved) in the most unexpected places. 

Read the study guide:
The Autobiography of Malcolm X

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