Critical Context (Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)
At the time of its publication, The Autobiography of Malcolm X shed light on a controversial public figure often associated in the media with hate and violence but relatively unknown as an individual. The book also gave the public insight into the experiences and attitudes of African Americans living in a world that most whites did not understand. The autobiography then and now can show, in Malcolm’s words, “a better picture of the black ghettoes which are shaping the lives and the thinking of almost all of the 22 million Negroes who live in America.” The picture is enhanced by the range of Malcolm’s experience, as he moves from Lansing to Boston to New York to Detroit and back to New York.
For students of history, the autobiography gives fascinating and different perspectives on the events and people of the mid-twentieth century. For example, Malcolm had attacked the strategies of Martin Luther King, Jr., and he spoke of the assassination of President John Kennedy as a matter of “the chickens coming home to roost.” He records the belief of at least some African Americans that World War II was a white person’s war and offers his opinions that, as presidential candidates, Lyndon Johnson and Barry Goldwater were “just about the same” as far as African Americans were concerned.
Beyond its historical and social significance, the autobiography demonstrates the power of education and intelligence as it chronicles an individual who triumphs, in whatever controversial ways, over great adversity.