Last Updated on May 17, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 342
Shorty: Malcolm’s friend
Freddie: works as a shoeshine boy
Malcolm lives with Ella and her family in an area known as “the Hill” in Roxbury, a large black neighborhood in Boston. Most black people residing in the Hill are servants, or have other types of menial employment; a small number are white-collar workers.
Shorty helps Malcolm get a job shining shoes at the Roseland State Ballroom. Malcolm soon discovers that shoe-shining is only part of the job. His additional responsibilities include selling liquor, marijuana, and pimping. He develops a taste for Roxbury’s black urban fashion and lifestyle. He purchases his first “zoot suit,” and begins “conking,” or straightening, his hair. He spends his free time shooting craps, playing cards, drinking, and smoking marijuana with Shorty and his friends.
In this chapter, Malcolm undergoes his first transformation—from a “country” boy to a big city “hipster.” However, it is ironic that his vivid descriptions of this black urban culture of zoot suits and dancing are sharp contrasts to the lurking evils that are undeniably present—of illegal drugs, gambling, and prostitution.
Toward the end of the chapter, Malcolm acknowledges, in hindsight, the irony of this seemingly happy period of his life. He says that when he was a teenager living in Roxbury, he felt proud that this black community had its own, distinct cultural identity. He realizes, however, in retrospect, the enormous influence white people’s culture actually had over black people at that time. When discussing his “conked” hair, for example, Malcolm shamefully admits, “I had joined that multitude of Negro men and women in America who are brainwashed into believing that the black people are ‘inferior’—and white people ‘superior’—that they will even violate and mutilate their God-created bodies to try to look ‘pretty’ by white standards.”
The reader, of course, has the foresight to recognize that Malcolm’s experiences—whether positive or negative—are all part of his growth process. Malcolm’s remarkable journey will eventually lead him to achieve great personal satisfaction and fulfillment.
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