(Nonfiction Classics for Students)

Oppression and Slavery
One of Malcolm X's greatest desires was to open other African Americans' eyes to the history of black oppression and slavery in the United States and the world. The book's opening chapter immediately presents Malcolm's mother pregnant with him, struggling to save her family and home as white men threaten to harm them. By the end of the same chapter, the family's house has been burned down, and Malcolm's father has been murdered by a gang of white supremacists. Malcolm X's life has been defined by the oppression of his family and friends. His own abilities are ignored by a school counselor who dismisses young Malcolm's desire to become a lawyer or some other professional.

As an adult member of the Nation of Islam, Malcolm X uses the violent history of slavery and oppression in the United States to shock those he tried to reach with his preaching. "I wouldn't waste any time to start opening their eyes about the devil white man,'' he remembers. "The dramatization of slavery never failed intensely to arouse Negroes hearing its horrors spelled out for the first time.’’ Even after he is expelled from the Nation of Islam, Malcolm X continues to tell the story of how poorly blacks have been treated in the United States, reminding his listeners that the poor treatment did not end when slavery was abolished. He tells fellow dinner guests in Ghana that racial violence in the United States is not unexpected, since "black men had been living packed like animals and treated like lepers.’’

Religious Conversion
Much of The Autobiography of Malcolm X is devoted to the author's conversion to Islam. Malcolm's conversion experience is classic in that he had fallen to the depths of depravity just before he embraced Islam through Elijah Muhammad and his Nation of Islam. His conversion takes place in prison, a place in which Malcolm has enough time and solitude to study and think. Malcolm leaves prison with all the fervor and energy of a new convert, impatient to spread his new awareness among his fellow blacks. To signify even further his separation from his old life, he...

(The entire section is 874 words.)