Chapter 4: Laura
Laura: a black high school honors student
Mamie Bevels: waitress at Roseland
Sophia: a white girl Malcolm meets at Roseland
Dancing becomes Malcolm’s first and foremost passion. He quits his shoeshining job and takes a job as a soda fountain clerk, enabling him to go out dancing at night. At work, he meets Laura, a sheltered black girl living with her grandmother. He takes Laura dancing at Roseland and the two are a dancing sensation.
Malcolm stops dating Laura after he meets an attractive, wealthy white woman he refers to as Sophia. Meanwhile, Laura’s life drastically changes. In defiance of her grandmother, she starts drinking liquor and using dope; soon, she becomes a prostitute to support her drug habit. Laura hates her male customers and, subsequently, becomes a lesbian. Ultimately, she spends time in and out of jail.
Financed by Sophia, Malcolm moves in with Shorty. He begins to work as a bus boy at Boston’s Parker House.
The chapter concludes as Malcolm learns that the Japanese have just bombed Pearl Harbor.
The reader is totally immersed in the culture and lifestyle of Roxbury’s black community. Malcolm begins using “hip” slang terms to describe his experiences and the people he encounters. Comparing himself to a “dancing jigaboo” toy, he says, “I met chicks who were fine as May wine, and cats who were hip to all happenings.”
As Malcolm easily adapts to the culture of Roxbury’s black community, his status is further enhanced by his relationship with a white woman.
Significantly, Malcolm has called this chapter, “Laura.” To the reader, Laura emerges as a figure who plays a relatively minor role in his life. However, Malcolm admits, “One of the shames I have carried for years is that I blame myself for all of this [Laura’s prostitution and eventual downfall]. To have treated her as I did for a white woman made the blow doubly heavy.” Thus, Laura serves as an ugly reminder to Malcolm of his own moral and physical deterioration during this period of his life.