Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 621
In his preface to Malcolm X: By Any Means Necessary , Myers identifies Malcolm X as the pivotal figure of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s. His contributions to African American thought and history have survived the test of time as he continues to inspire young people. For many,...
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- Critical Essays
In his preface to Malcolm X: By Any Means Necessary, Myers identifies Malcolm X as the pivotal figure of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s. His contributions to African American thought and history have survived the test of time as he continues to inspire young people. For many, he remains a symbol of black pride. As a Black Nationalist, he fought the stereotype of “the humble Negro,” begging at the table for his rights, and did not disavow violence as a tool for social change. Malcolm X preached revolution “by any means necessary.” The author uses the metaphor “the blade of the sword” to describe his subject’s role in the Civil Rights movement.
Myers presents an accurate, realistic account of his subject’s life and thought. Although the book’s scope is limited to the life of one man, the author has also included the relevant information and analysis needed to place Malcolm X’s life within a broader historical perspective. Events are presented in chronological order. The author has adroitly interwoven historical facts into the narrative that place the subject’s life and thought within the social context of the times. He uses quotations from Alex Haley’s The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1964) to support his analysis of turning points in his subject’s life. Myers’ rationale for this approach is expressed in his opening statement in chapter 1 that people “react to ideas that have come before them, and to people who have expressed those ideas.”
Using the flexibility of the third-person point of view, Myers not only has produced an accurate, sensitive biography of his subject but also has placed his subject within the broader scope of African American history. Thus, readers with little knowledge of this history are provided with sufficient background information to understand the author’s analysis of the subject matter. For example, Malcolm’s parents were strong supporters of Marcus Garvey’s Black Nationalist movement. Details of Garvey’s life are summarized in the text in order to provide readers with an understanding of the controversy that swirled around that figure. Myers sketches a canvas of African American life and thought—from the terrible suffering of families during the Depression to the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s. Interested readers will find many subjects for further exploration.
Myers’ writing style is commendable. Although the text is easy-to-read, the author uses phrasing elegantly, with not a word wasted. He paints visual pictures with words, such as his descriptions of zoot suits and conks. Myers’ choice of details to elaborate and explore shows unerring judgment, and he writes with clarity and precision. Supplementary information is inserted flawlessly into the narrative and never seems intrusive. Wide margins, chapter heading boxes, and family photographs contribute to the readability of the biography.
The author captures the essence of a complex man whose life and writings continue to generate powerful emotions. Using a neutral voice, he has produced a biography that is not a dry statement of fact, yet effectively avoids an emotional, biased appeal to readers. Reared in poverty, young Malcolm Little craved respect but had no hope for a better life, and he spent much of his young manhood in prison. As a leader, Malcolm X was intelligent and articulate, a man of principles who never stopped learning and growing and whose power was in his ideas. He was loved and hated, vilified and glorified. He was a center of controversy. Myers captures this essence sympathetically, but objectively. He addresses the questions that remain, such as who was responsible for the assassination, and presents controversial issues and relevant facts without taking sides. By avoiding both sensationalism and didacticism, he has created an outstanding biography for young people.