Last Updated on May 17, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 635
Bimbi: Malcolm’s fellow inmate in Charlestown State Prison
John: Malcolm’s fellow inmate in Norfolk Prison Colony
The Honorable Elijah Muhammad: the leader of the Nation of Islam
“Mr. Yacub”: according to the teachings of Elijah Muhammad, he created the white race 6,600 years ago
Master W.D. Fard: a half-black, half-white man who gave Elijah Muhammad Allah’s message and divine guidance
In 1946, Malcolm is sentenced to ten years in prison. He is sent to the dilapidated Charlestown State Prison with his friend Shorty, who has been given an eight-to-ten year sentence. Malcolm’s wild atheistic rantings in prison earn him the nickname “Satan.” He meets Bimbi and develops enormous respect for this articulate, well-read black man. With Bimbi’s encouragement, Malcolm enrolls in prison correspondence courses.
Meanwhile, Malcolm’s brothers and sisters have converted to the religion of Islam and want their brother to convert as well. His brother, Reginald, advises him in a letter to stop eating pork and smoking cigarettes. Malcolm thinks that Reginald’s instructions have some hidden meaning. He thinks that by following his brother’s advice, he would begin experiencing physical problems and, thus, be released from prison early. Malcolm gives up eating pork and smoking cigarettes with surprisingly little difficulty.
Thanks to Ella’s efforts, Malcolm is transferred to the Norfolk (Massachusetts) Prison Colony, an experimental rehabilitation jail, in 1948. The Colony has a wide variety of educational programs and an extensive library collection.
Reginald visits Malcolm and explains that followers of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad abstain from cigarettes, pork, narcotics, and liquor. Muhammad, he says, is the black leader of the Nation of Islam and the “Messenger of Allah [God].” Muhammad preaches that the black man has been “brainwashed for hundreds of years” by “the devil white men.” Reginald cites numerous examples of the white man’s oppression and exploitation of black people throughout the centuries—such as the evils of black slavery, and the “whitened” history books that fail to mention the past cultures and traditions of African-American people. Malcolm’s sister, Hilda, also visits and tells him more about Muhammad’s teachings.
The theme of transformation is very evident in this chapter. Significantly, as the chapter opens, the reader learns that Malcolm has been nicknamed “Satan.” Later, “Satan” is said to be, ironically, the white man, who, according to Muhammad’s teachings, has oppressed and enslaved black people for centuries.
The description of black people’s history of suffering and oppression at the hands of white people is quite vivid and has a profound effect on Malcolm. Reginald tells him, “You have been a victim of the evil of the devil white man ever since he murdered and raped and stole you from your native land in the seeds of your forefathers.” Malcolm’s recollection of his own interactions with white people serve to validate Muhammad’s theories.
Malcolm explains his first reaction to Muhammad’s ideas: “Every instinct of the ghetto jungle streets, every hustling fox and criminal wolf instinct in me, which would have scoffed at and rejected anything else, was struck dumb. It was as though all of that life merely was back there, without any remaining effect, or influence.”
Malcolm expresses his willingness to accept Muhammad’s ideas, saying, “I have since learned—helping me to understand what then began to happen within me—that the truth can be quickly received, or received at all, only by the sinner who knows and admits that he is guilty of having sinned much.... The very enormity of my previous life’s guilt prepared me to accept the truth.”
However, as the chapter ends, Malcolm acknowledges, in retrospect, that Muhammad was a “religious faker” who misled African Americans. For the reader, this statement represents a clear foreshadowing of Malcolm’s future conflict with Muhammad.