Written by Alex Haley, a journalist by profession, The Autobiography of Malcolm X is a description of Malcolm’s life in a country dominated with racial discrimination, poverty, abuse of drugs, and crime. Haley uses Malcolm as the persona to bring out the themes of racial discrimination, poverty, and crime in the story.
When Malcolm turns eight years old, his father, a reverend, dies in cold blood murder. Therefore, in his entire life Malcolm is looking for a person befitting his father’s character for a role model. Unfortunately, Malcolm is black in a country where most of its population is white and therefore he faces the wrath of racism courtesy of his skin color.
Malcolm was born in 1925 as a son to a reverend father. He was an activist of human rights especially in criticizing the harassment and merciless killing of black people living in America. While in Michigan, he went to high school but due to frequent discrimination and harassments from teachers who favored the white students, he quit.
At fifteen, he ventured into doing menial jobs although he dreamt of becoming a middle class lawyer. After sometime, Malcolm moved to Boston, where he worked in a drugstore; however, he experienced discrimination from well-off black men, which forced him out of the job. In the ghetto, Malcolm adapted a new life becoming a drug addict hence using hard drugs like marijuana and cocaine.
Unluckily, after a short while, the long arm of law caught up with him and incarcerated him for ten years. His experience in prison and as a criminal motivated him to become a Muslim as a way of salvation. Unfortunately, in February 1965 just like his father, Malcolm became a victim to assassination at Audubon ballroom in New York.
Malcolm is a black young man from a humble background. After the murder of his father, he struggles to fit in a society full of racial discrimination from the whites on top of grappling with poverty, and crime. Malcolm attends school but due to mockery and humiliation from the school fraternity, he quits.
He then decides to search for greener pastures, which influences him to relocate to Boston in search of employment. However, his involvement in drugs lands him in prison. He later changes to Muslim and becomes a political critique, an achievement that leads to his assassination.
Critical analysis of the book fails to classify it as an autobiography but rather a biography. In the epilogue, the author clearly describes his partnership with Malcolm X in writing of the story. Although Haley’s aim is for the reader to hear Malcolm’s voice, his voice is also evident hence disapproving Malcolm as the persona or the speaker.
For instance, Haley writes “I said, Mr. Malcolm could you tell me something about your mother?”(15).Therefore, the story comes out more of a narration than an autobiography hence its genre qualifies as a biography.
The author vividly highlights the theme of oppression through description of Malcolm’s character and life experience. For instance, when in Mason Junior High School Mr. Ostrowski kills his dream of ever becoming a lawyer by sarcastically telling him the best thing he could realistically become, as a nigger was a carpenter.
Mr. Ostrowski is a symbol of racial discrimination that the black citizens of America were going through. This is also an irony because Mr. Ostrowski, who is an elite of the community advocates for racial discrimination in public places like the school.
The book describes racial discrimination as a key factor in America through personal experiences of Malcolm. The author painting an image description of Malcolm as a criminal, drug addict, and discrimination of fellow black people disqualifies him as a human right activist.
In addition, he is in jail not because of advocating for human rights but rather for his involvement in criminal activities. After finishing his prison term, he converts to Islam as a way of salvation; he becomes a mu-dar-ris, an Islamic teacher, and a critique of the political system. The book describes American politics as dirty, corrupt, and selfish. The American government does not protect the rights of its black citizens.
When unknown people murder Malcolm, police arrest three innocent Muslim men convicting them of the murder. However, before his death, Malcolm comments show that a senior and powerful member of the country was after his life. The American politics are not transparent because Malcolm’s death is due to him being a political critique.
This book befits students in all levels of learning because the author clearly highlights the themes of oppression and struggle. Therefore, this is a form of encouragement to students who dream of being political figures in future. Additionally, Malcolm’s life experience is also a lesson to students’ fraternity especially on which life route to take.
The Autobiography of Malcolm X describes Malcolm as an anti-racist and a political critique during his life. Although the author paints him as a human rights activist, earlier in his life he is a drug addict and criminal disqualifying his profession. The book also paints the politics of America as unfair and dirty because Malcolm’s death is due to his position as a political critique. It is a book worth reading for all students at any level of education.
Haley, Alex. The Autobiography of Malcolm X. New York: Grove Press, 1965.