Chapter 5 Summary: Harlemite

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Last Updated on May 17, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 511

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Old Man Rountree: elderly Pullman porter and friend of Ella’s

Pappy Cousins: Yankee Clipper steward

Ed Small: owner of Small’s Paradise, a popular Harlem nightspot

Charlie Small: Ed’s brother, who interviews Malcolm for a job

Summary

In 1942, Malcolm is hired by a railroad company to work as a dishwasher on its Boston to Washington, DC run. Soon, he is promoted and begins selling food on the “Yankee Clipper,” the train that runs between Boston and New York City. On his first trip to New York’s Harlem, he visits several nightclubs and sees such famous black celebrities as Dizzy Gillespie and Ella Fitzgerald. Immediately deciding that “this world was where I belonged,” he becomes a regular at Harlem’s hottest nightspots.

Meanwhile, Malcolm is fired by the railroad company after they receive complaints from people about his rude behavior. Confident that he will find another job—however menial—easily because of America’s booming wartime economy, Malcolm pays a visit to his family in Lansing. His conked, fire-red hair and zoot suits create a sensation there.

Back in New York, Malcolm becomes a day waiter at Small’s Paradise. He learns about Harlem’s long history as a safe haven for the vast numbers of immigrants—Dutch, German, and Irish, to name a few—who once resided in Harlem. In addition, he discovers how Harlem gained its notoriety—the numbers hustling, pimping, dope peddling, and thievery.

Analysis

This chapter vividly illustrates the prevailing racial climate of the early 1940s. America’s black people were economically and socially disadvantaged. Resentment and anger were slowly building up in black communities. Thus, the reader must regard Malcolm’s behavior within the context of such attitudes.

Malcolm, like many young black men during World War II, does not want to join the army. He agrees with Shorty, who, explaining his reluctance to serve in the army, says, “Whitey owns everything. He wants us to go and bleed for him? Let him fight.”

It is, however, necessary for black people to maintain cordial relationships with white people. White people are often their employers, or the people to whom one must show respect. Malcolm encounters white people when he sells food on the railroad. He credits his success at this job to his submissive, “Uncle Tomming” antics, which earn him bigger tips. He perceptively notes, “We were in that world of Negroes who are both servants and psychologists, aware that white people are so obsessed with their own importance that they will pay liberally, even dearly, for the impression of being catered to and entertained.” Evidently, he is willing to demean himself in order to get higher tips.

Later on, Malcolm cleverly humiliates a white passenger. A drunken white soldier, referring to Malcolm as “nigger,” challenges him to a fist fight. Malcolm responds, “Sure, I’ll fight, but you’ve got too many clothes on.” The drunken sailor proceeds to disrobe in front of the other, laughing passengers. Ultimately, Malcolm’s anger—at white people in general—has led him to take revenge against this soldier.

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Chapter 6 Summary: Detroit Red and Chapter 7 Summary: Hustler