The Autobiography of Malcolm X Summary

The Autobiography of Malcolm X is a collaborative effort between Black Power activist Malcolm X and journalist Alex Haley. 

  • While serving a prison sentence for robbery in 1946, Malcolm converted to Islam and joined the Nation of Islam, which advocated for black separatism.
  • In 1958, Malcolm got married and settled in Queens, New York. He became disillusioned with the Nation of Islam, which preached separatism rather than direct confrontation with racist forces in America.
  • Malcolm X was assassinated  in February, 1965. His "autobiography" is the result of two years of intensive interviews with journalist Alex Haley, who wrote the autobiography after the assassination.

Summary

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 406

The Autobiography of Malcolm X was hailed as a literary classic shortly after it appeared. Its description of Malcolm X’s discovery of an African American identity continues to inspire its readers. The two most memorable phases of Malcolm X’s life described in his autobiography, and quite possibly the two phases...

(The entire section contains 406 words.)

Unlock This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this The Autobiography of Malcolm X study guide. You'll get access to all of the The Autobiography of Malcolm X content, as well as access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

  • Summary
  • Chapter Summaries
  • Themes
  • Characters
  • Analysis
  • Critical Essays
  • Short-Answer Quizzes
  • Teaching Guide
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

The Autobiography of Malcolm X was hailed as a literary classic shortly after it appeared. Its description of Malcolm X’s discovery of an African American identity continues to inspire its readers. The two most memorable phases of Malcolm X’s life described in his autobiography, and quite possibly the two phases most formative of his identity, are his self-education and religious conversion while in prison and his last year of life, in which he set out to organize a multiracial coalition to end racism. The first of these phases followed a difficult childhood and life as a criminal. In prison, Malcolm X felt inspired by fellow inmates to improve his knowledge. He started on a rigorous program of reading books on history and philosophy. He also worked on his penmanship and vocabulary by copying an entire dictionary. His readings revealed to him that school had taught him nothing about African and African American history. School had also been silent on the crimes that Europeans and European Americans had committed against people of color. In prison, members of the Nation of Islam urged Malcolm X to reject the negative self-image he had unconsciously adopted and to replace it with black pride.

Malcolm X taught the Nation’s doctrine of black self-reliance after his release from prison, and he married Betty Shabazz, eventually becoming the father of six children. Disappointed by the divergence between the practices of some of the leaders of the Nation of Islam and the rules of self-discipline and honor that the Nation taught, he left the Nation and, after traveling to Mecca, became an orthodox Muslim. Islam and his experiences in the Middle East and Africa also changed his outlook on racial relations. Before, he had seen an unbridgeable gulf between African Americans and European Americans. His positive experiences with white Muslims, white students, and white reporters caused him to reevaluate that position. Deciding that cooperation between whites and blacks was possible, he remained devoted to the liberation of people of African descent to the end of his life.

The Autobiography of Malcolm X is important as an account of the life of a charismatic American intellectual. The book is also an important literary work in the African American tradition of the autobiographies of Frederick Douglass and W. E. B. Du Bois and in the American tradition of Benjamin Franklin. Like Douglass and Franklin, Malcolm X can be described as a self-made man.

Illustration of PDF document

Download The Autobiography of Malcolm X Study Guide

Subscribe Now
Next

Chapter Summaries