One Day When I was Lost: A Scenario

by James Baldwin

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1135

Baldwin’s screenplay One Day, When I Was Lost: A Scenario begins with the theme of alienation. Earl Little, Malcolm X’s father, is a preacher who is alienated from white society. Earl fully believes in the philosophy of Marcus Garvey: the only way that black people can successfully find their freedom is to come together, pool their resources, and move back to Africa to begin a new nation. After Earl’s death, Malcolm’s mother, Louise, becomes alienated from life and suffers a mental breakdown upon the loss of her children.

Malcolm graduates from high school. Despite the fact that he has done well in school, he is alienated from furthering his education because of the comments of his counselor. The counselor tells Malcolm that he has expectations that far exceed the limits of his race. Later, in prison, Luther preaches a philosophy held by the Black Muslim Movement that praises the benefits of African Americans alienating themselves from white people. Then, in the course of Malcolm’s rise in the Movement, Luther and the other leaders alienate themselves from Malcolm, believing that he has gained too much power.

Malcolm, because he is so outspoken about his belief that black people should arm themselves to protect their homes and families from white attacks, alienates himself from the white media and the white portion of American society. Finally, when Malcolm returns from Mecca where he witnesses the benefits of all races working together, he alienates himself from many of his followers because they think his radical transition is a sign that he has sold out to white society.

There are many different types of crimes that are perpetrated during the course of this screenplay. Some are petty; some are lethal. Some go unsolved; others are ignored. Only a few are brought to justice. First there are the crimes of the Ku Klux Klan in harassing the Little family by breaking the windows in their house, striking fear in Louise Little and her children, and demanding that Earl Little stop preaching about uniting the black people in his community. When the Littles move to the North, their house burns while fireman look on, making no effort to smother the flames. Earl is later found dead, having been run over by a trolley car. His death is deemed a suicide even though the back of his head had been bashed in with a blunt instrument. The insurance company then refuses to pay the premium that Earl had struggled to keep up to date, leaving Louise Little with no financial means of keeping her children. Because she cannot feed her children, they are taken away from her. Some of these are not crimes against a specific law but crimes against humanity and decent morality.

Malcolm tires of the menial jobs he must take that force him to swallow his pride and kowtow to whites who look down upon him. In an effort to improve his financial situation and remove himself from the dealings of white people, Malcolm learns to run numbers, an illegal lottery system that once thrived in many large cities, especially among the inner-city poor. He also learns to deal drugs and commit petty thievery. He is never caught as long as he keeps his crimes on a small scale. However, once he moves to Boston and organizes a group that steals money and valuables from the wealthy people in Boston’s upper society, Malcolm is caught and sent to prison.

The screenplay also covers the assassination of John F. Kennedy, president of the United States. Crime also occurs in the scene with Sidney, during which he admits to knowing how to tie a bomb to Malcolm’s car and blowing it up, implying he has done this before. Finally, Malcolm is shot to death at the close of the play.

Prejudice comes in many forms in this screenplay. Rampant prejudice exists in the minds of the Ku Klux Klan. Louise Little, a light-skinned woman, loses her job after her husband is murdered; her employer discovers through the news coverage that Louise is not white. More subtle prejudice follows Malcolm through high school when his counselor dashes Malcolm’s hopes of ever becoming a lawyer based on Malcolm’s race. Malcolm also overhears prejudiced statements coming from his foster mother, who refers to black people as ‘‘niggers,’’ a prejudice that she had previously hidden from him.

When Malcolm moves to Boston, Shorty teaches him how to be a good ‘‘darky.’’ This means that if Malcolm learns to act like white people want African Americans to act, he’ll earn bigger tips. There is reverse prejudice when Malcolm converts to Islam. He is taught to hate white people. When he writes the Honorable Messenger, Malcolm states: ‘‘I see how the devil is the white man.’’ He believes that by harboring this hate and understanding it, he will cure all the evils in his life. When he gets out of prison, he uses his newly discovered prejudice to preach a hatred of all white society. However, when he goes to Mecca, he thinks he was wrong. He sees a society in which racial prejudice appears to be nonexistent. His followers do not easily understand his new conversion in thought. It was much easier for them to comprehend prejudice and hate, concepts they’d grown used to.

Search for Identity
To be black in Malcolm’s time meant to be impoverished, to be different, and to be excluded. Therefore, many black people believed that the whiter they looked, dressed, or acted, the more successful they would be. Baldwin brings this theme into the play in different ways. First there is the discussion between Laura and Malcolm. Malcolm implies that Laura’s family tries very hard to be white. Malcolm ridicules the way Laura’s people dress and take on airs, relating to white people in every manner available to them.

There is another dialogue between Malcolm and Shorty in which Shorty claims that women are crazy for Malcolm because he is light skinned. There was a time when prejudice within the African- American community existed: the lighter a person’s skin was, the higher the value they received in black society. This led to darker skinned people trying to bleach their skin. It also became a common practice of both men and women to chemically straighten their hair to make it look more like white people’s.

Luther makes Malcolm look at himself, makes Malcolm see how he is trying to be white. Luther instills in Malcolm a pride of being who he is, a black man. This was also one of the overall themes in the Black Muslim Movement that made it so popular—giving African Americans a reason to be proud to be black.

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