Study Guide

The Autobiography of Malcolm X Analysis

By Malcolm X and Alex Haley

  • Tone

    Serious, Blunt, And Sometimes Humorous

    We feel like we're at a rally! The mostly serious and blunt tone of The Autobiography of Malcolm X gives us the feeling that we are listening to Malcolm X deliver one of his rousing and powerful speeches. There is no doubt that it couldn't be anyone but him telling this story.

    The story can veer straight from a recollection of Malcolm X's childhood into a political diatribe. This is just one of many examples:

    The black man in North America was sickest of all politically. He let the white man divide him into such foolishness as considering himself a black "Democrat," a black "Republican," a black "Conservative," or a black "Liberal" . . . when a ten-million black vote bloc could be the deciding balance of power in American politics, because the white man's vote is almost always evenly divided. [...] Listen, let me tell you something! If a black bloc committee told Washington's worst "n*****-hater," "We represent ten million votes," why, that "n*****-hater" would leap up: "Well, how are you? Come on in here!" (16.163)

    Just like in his speeches, Malcolm X doesn't shy away from racial or controversial topics. He just says it like it is. This gives us the feeling that we are listening to his real thoughts. If the autobiography were told in a different tone, leaders would be confused. For example if, instead of mirroring Malcolm X's speech, the story were told in a high literary style we would probably think that it was inauthentic.

    But there is also another side that we are shown: Malcolm X's humorous side. You kind of have to crack up when he says: "The roads offered the wildest drives that I had ever known: nightmare traffic, brakes squealing, skidding cars, and horns blowing. (I believe that all of the driving in the Holy Land is done in the name of Allah)" (18.3). There's no way he said that with a straight face.

    But how does humor fit into all of this? Remember that The Autobiography of Malcolm X is an autobiography. It’s supposed to be an intimate look into his life. So, just giving us more of what we see when we read about Malcolm X or watch him on TV is not enough. The humorous tone that creeps into the narrative every now and then gives us a peek into the softer, more human side of this famous man. You get to feel like you are best pals and he's just sitting around joking with you.

  • Genre

    Autobiography, Biography, Coming-Of-Age

    Looking at that list of genres, you're probably wondering if we forgot the definitions of autobiography and biography. Don't worry, we didn't. It's just kind of… complicated.

    But let's start with the easy stuff. There's no doubt that The Autobiography of Malcolm X is a coming-of-age story. We follow Malcolm from before he's even born all the way into the final years of his life. We see how each of the experiences he has, even the negative ones, come together to create the man known in history as Malcolm X. That's basically the definition of a coming-of-age story.

    Okay, now we have to roll up our sleeves.

    Autobiography Or Biography?

    This should be super easy. The word autobiography is even in the title. An autobiography is the tale of someone's life told in their own words, and a biography is the tale of someone's life told by someone else. Simple.

    Not quite. The problem comes in with Alex Haley. The Autobiography of Malcolm X is the result of over 50 interviews between Malcolm X and Alex Haley that occurred between 1963 and 1965. While Malcolm X provided the memory and the base material, Alex Haley wrote, compiled, and edited the book.

    See the problem? Malcolm X did tell his own story, but everyone knows that you can completely change a story just by changing how you tell it. So, who is the real author of The Autobiography of Malcolm X? If you go by hours, Alex Haley is the author because he spent many years editing, rewriting, changing names, deleting, and adding information to the book. If you go by content, obviously Malcolm X is the one who provided his life story, and had final say in the approval of the manuscript.

    What do we think? Well, let's just say that it was a collaboration between the two. It could be a new category, the collabo-biography. Think it'll catch on?

    Either way, it's important to remember that The Autobiography is not just a factual account of Malcolm X's life. Think about it. If you were telling your life story, wouldn't you emphasize the good stuff and downplay the bad? Plus, after Malcolm got through with his version of the story, Alex Haley got a turn at creating the Malcolm X he saw. Even though Haley does a pretty good job of making you believe that he just wrote down whatever Malcolm said, that's not quite the case, so don't fall for it.

  • What's Up With the Title?

    This looks like it should be a pretty straightforward case, but there are two big problems with the title. The first is with the word autobiography. Since it was basically a collaboration with Alex Haley, we are not sure if you could say the book is a "true" autobiography. For more on that, check out the "Genre" section.

    The second problem is the name Malcolm X. Why use that name? By the end of his life, Malcolm X had changed his name to El Hajji Malik El Shabazz. So why isn't the title The Autobiography of El Hajji Malik El Shabazz? Well, if you're like most people, you've probably heard of Malcolm X but you might have been unfamiliar with El Hajji Malik El Shabazz until now.

    The media continued to call El Hajji Malik El Shabazz by his former name and continued to speak about his prior beliefs even after he returned from Mecca. So that's the name and image of him that went down in history, even in his own autobiography. How do you think he would've felt about that?

  • What's Up With the Ending?

    You watch. I will be labeled as, at best, an "irresponsible" black man. I have always felt about this accusation that the black "leader" whom white men consider to be "responsible" is invariably the black "leader" who never gets any results. You only get action as a black man if you are regarded by the white man as "irresponsible." In fact, this much I had learned when I was just a little boy. And since I have been some kind of a "leader" of black people here in the racist society of America, I have been more reassured each time the white man resisted me, or attacked me harder—because each time made me more certain that I was on the right track in the American black man's best interests. The racist white man's opposition automatically made me know that I did offer the black man something worthwhile.

    Yes, I have cherished my "demagogue" role. I know that societies often have killed the people who have helped to change those societies. And if I can die having brought any light, having exposed any meaningful truth that will help to destroy the racist cancer that is malignant in the body of America—then, all of the credit is due to Allah. Only the mistakes have been mine. (19.94)

    In the last two paragraphs of The Autobiography of Malcolm X, the tone suddenly changes. Instead of telling a story, it appears that Malcolm X is talking directly to the reader. It gets kind of intense.

    He predicts his own death and even what will happen after it. He says that he will be vilified as an irresponsible and violent black man who preached hatred. But he also says that being attacked like that is proof that he has done something right. The final lines express his hope that he has helped black people even a teeny tiny bit and praises Allah for everything that has gone right in his life.

    Reading the book after his death, we are forced to think about his assassination when looking at these final moments. It's actually kind of creepy how correct his premonitions were. Many people still consider Malcolm X a violent, fringe, black nationalist leader. While he may not convince us that he's totally innocent, these words at least force us to reevaluate all of the things that we have been told about Malcolm X.

    Even though it might seem insignificant, the very last line of the book has meaning too. By praising Allah for all of the things that have gone well, Malcolm both cements his dedication to Islam and reiterates his selflessness. While part of the reason he was kicked out of the Nation of Islam was because others thought he was self-important, even in his own autobiography he does not congratulate himself for his victories. And even though his religion has changed from the beliefs of the Nation of Islam, he obviously is still sincere in his devotion to Allah.

  • Setting

    Macro Setting: A Lot Was Goin' On

    Even though Malcolm X was an internationally renowned black rights activist, he wasn't unique. Movements were happening all over the world at the same time. In some ways, Malcolm was just one small part of a global movement working toward equal rights and opportunities for Africans and members of the African diaspora.

    Civil Rights Movement

    Most Americans will be pretty familiar with this one. This movement that began in the 1960s attempted to gain legal equality for African Americans. Nonviolent boycotts, sit-ins, and marches (such as the March on Washington) are some of the most famous examples of the nonviolent resistance preached by leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr.

    However, other black nationalist groups also advocated violence if necessary to achieve their goals. MLK's message was just one of many that, ultimately, all had the same goal: Stop the oppression of African Americans.

    Throughout The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Malcolm looks at the Civil Rights Movement as an outsider. He does not believe in MLK's nonviolent methods, and thinks that more action is needed before anything significant will actually be achieved for African American people.

    By the end of his life, however Malcolm was more interested in something more global than the Civil Rights Movement, which would only help African descendants in the United States.


    That would be Pan-Africanism. This movement, headed by leaders such as Marcus Garvey (sound familiar?), Kwame Nkrumah, and W.E.B. Du Bois, was about more than civil rights. Its goal was the economic independence and unity of all African peoples across the world, including members of the African diaspora. Proponents of this movement believe that if all Africans united as a political and economic entity, they would be able to wield the same power as the United States or the European Union.

    A wave of African independence movements was supported by the Pan-African message. African nations such as Ghana separated from their imperialist colonizers and sought to collaborate with other newly independent nations. From afar, they also watched the goings-on of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States and sent their support when they could.

    This is the movement that Malcolm joins after his expulsion from the Nation of Islam. When he goes to Mecca and then visits the African nations, Malcolm realizes that the black struggle is not just an American one, but also an international one. However, when he returns to the United States, it doesn't seem that many people are interested in this message.

    The Nation of Islam

    You can't talk about Malcolm X without talking about the Nation of Islam. Wallace D. Fard founded it in 1930, but Elijah Muhammad was the leader of the religion by the time Malcolm X converted. As you have probably guessed from the name, the Nation of Islam is an Islamic movement. However, many Islamic organizations have distanced themselves from the Nation of Islam.

    Like many other Islamic religions, the Nation of Islam teaches The Five Pillars of the Islamic Faith: belief in one God (Allah), prayer, fasting during Ramadan, charity, and the pilgrimage to Mecca. But there are also many differences. Members of the Nation of Islam believe that Master W. Fard is the Messiah and Elijah Muhammad is Allah. They also believe that black people are the original race that created all other races on earth, and that white people are devils that were engineered by an evil scientist named Yakub.

    Supporters of the religion believe that it helps African Americans spiritually, mentally, socially, and economically. But critics of the religion claim that it is anti-Semitic, black supremacist, and a perversion of Islam. While the religion still remains highly controversial, it plays a major part in the story of Malcolm X.

    Micro Setting: City Life

    You know how some people say things like the first time they visited Times Square blew their mind? That's probably an over exaggeration for most people, but for Malcolm X three locations actually change the entire course of his life story.


    At the tender age of 16, Malcolm moves from Michigan to live with his half-sister Ella in Boston. His sightseeing around the historically black neighborhood of Roxbury is his first introduction to black society. He writes:

    I didn't know the world contained as many N****es as I saw thronging downtown Roxbury at night, especially on Saturdays. Neon lights, nightclubs, pool halls, bars, the cars they drove! Restaurants made the streets smell—rich, greasy, down-home black cooking! Jukeboxes blared Erskine Hawkins, Duke Ellington, Cootie Williams, dozens of others. (2.60)

    We imagine that his eyes were probably falling out of his head. It must have been amazing for Malcolm to see so many people who looked just like him for the first time in his entire life.

    Boston is where Malcolm X is steeped in black culture. He learns to talk jive, dance, and dress in the popular African American fashions of the time. He also meets an almost unbelievable amount of African American celebrities. You can think of Boston as the party time in Malcolm X's life.

    If Malcolm X had not moved to Boston, we are not sure what kind of person he would've turned out to have been. He probably wouldn't have been able to interact with so many black people and become an activist if he had stayed in his little town in Michigan. He notes: "I've thought about that time a lot since then. No physical move in my life has been more pivotal or profound in its repercussions" (2.89). That's saying a lot, considering that his next move is to Harlem. While it's definitely a bigger city than Boston, we imagine that the transition between living in the country and living in the city is a more shocking one.


    Harlem has a special significance for African Americans because of the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s. Since that time, it has been a center of African American social life, art, and culture. But Malcolm X gets to Harlem long after the Renaissance ends, in a time when the city has been plagued with race riots that resulted from high racial tensions in the area.

    By the time Malcolm arrives, there are dozens of Black Nationalist groups vying for attention and preaching different doctrines that promise to gain equality for African Americans. But that's not what attracts Malcolm to Harlem. He likes it because it's cool.

    Where Boston is loud and brass, Harlem is calm and understated. Malcolm observes:

    I was hit first, I think, by their conservative clothes and manners. Wherever I'd seen as many as ten Boston N****es—let alone Lansing N****es—drinking, there had been a big noise. But with all of these Harlemites drinking and talking, there was just a low murmur of sound. [...] Their manners seemed natural; they were not putting on any airs. I was awed. Within the first five minutes in Small's, I had left Boston and Roxbury forever. (5.17)

    Just like that, he puts away his loud suits, stops dancing, and joins the laid-back atmosphere in his new home.

    Unfortunately, Harlem is also where Malcolm begins to fall into a life of crime. Instead of innocent partying, he deals drugs and begins to steal. This is the first step in his path to being imprisoned.


    While the first two cities are important because of their historical black communities, Mecca is a little different. Malcolm travels to the city in Saudi Arabia in order to complete the Hajji, or pilgrimage to Mecca that is required of all able-bodied Muslims. It is the birthplace of Muhammad and the site of his first revelation, so it is considered to be a holy city.

    It's here that Malcolm learns about the Islamic religion and its rituals for the first time. Since he is the personal guest of the Prince of Saudi Arabia, Malcolm gets to meet all kinds of famous people and sight see all over the country.

    But the most important aspect of Mecca for The Autobiography of Malcolm X is its impact on Malcolm X's racial understanding. According to him, the people living there were "white" but they did not treat him the same way that white people in the United States treated him. In fact, people of all races seem to be able to get along in the holy city. He writes:

    I said, "The brotherhood! The people of all races, colors, from all over the world coming together as one! It has proved to me the power of the One God." (17.103)

    In other words, the religion of Islam is capable of making people forget racism and accept other people as human beings.

    After this trip to Mecca, Malcolm X is a changed man. Not only has he changed his religious views, but he has moved from the beliefs of the Nation of Islam to those of the Pan-African movement. What a difference some travel makes!

  • Tough-o-Meter

    Tree Line (6)

    There is a lot going on this book. When Malcolm X was speaking with Alex Haley, he obviously expected to be speaking with someone who understood all of the current events issues he was referencing. But we're not in the Civil Rights era anymore. Zoot suits and jive are things of the distant past, and the United States has an entirely different relationship with Muslim nations.

    The problem here isn't Malcolm's language, but all of the things you need to know in order to understand what he's talking about. Not only is he speaking about a certain time period, or certain places, but you have his literally encyclopedic knowledge of history to deal with. That's a lot of stuff.

    We're not trying to scare you, but you should know it's not going to be the easiest path ahead. Maybe you should pack some granola bars.

  • Writing Style

    Simile, Metaphor, and Foreshadowing

    Simile and Metaphor

    You know, Malcolm X wasn't considered one of the greatest and most influential writers of all time for nothing. There's a reason why people reacted to his words. Besides his fiery delivery of speeches against the oppression of African Americans, he was definitely a guy who knew how to utilize his literary tools.

    Think about his audience. Just like him, the majority of the people that Malcolm X spoke to came from poor and under-educated backgrounds. How was he supposed to teach them complicated sociological concepts and keep them entertained at the same time? The answer is simile and metaphor. He employed these techniques in his speeches, so it's no surprise that they show up in his autobiography.

    Often, he takes an example from his life on the streets and translates it into an example of the racial oppression of African Americans. He says:

    This was my first lesson about gambling: if you see somebody winning all the time, he isn't gambling, he's cheating. Later on in life, if I were continuously losing in any gambling situation, I would watch very closely. It's like the N**** in America seeing the white man win all the time. He's a professional gambler; he has all the cards and the odds stacked on his side, and he has always dealt to our people from the bottom of the deck. (1.70)

    See how it went from a story about gambling into an example of how African Americans are discriminated against? Many people in his audience probably could identify with the first part of his simile, and so they would be able to grasp the message behind the second part.

    Malcolm does the same thing with metaphors. He writes:

    We were "state children," court wards; he had the full say-so over us. A white man in charge of a black man's children! Nothing but legal, modern slavery—however kindly intentioned. (1.97)

    Again, by calling attention to how similar two seemingly different things are, Malcolm helps his readers understand a more complex idea by comparing it with something they are probably already familiar with. Pretty smart move.


    This last aspect of the writing style in The Autobiography of Malcolm X is actually kind of creepy. Did you notice that Malcolm is constantly talking about how he's going to die? Like from the first chapter. Here, we have proof:

    And my father was finally himself to die by the white man's hands. It has always been my belief that I, too, will die by violence. I have done all that I can to be prepared. (1.2)

    All of that talk of death constantly reminds us of one thing: his assassination.

    We can't be sure why Malcolm X wanted to emphasize the possibility of his death, but Alex Haley has a pretty good incentive. It would make readers of the autobiography think about Malcolm as a martyr who died for his cause. Whether or not that's true, it's how Malcolm X has been written into history.

  • Status Symbols

    The way that Malcolm X talks about fashion in his youth, you would almost guess that he was on Project Runway. As soon as he gets to the big city, Malcolm doesn't waste any time getting into the fashion scene. He says:

    Like hundreds of thousands of country-bred N****es who had come to the Northern black ghetto before me, and have come since, I'd also acquired all the other fashionable ghetto adornments—the zoot suits and conk that I have described, liquor, cigarettes, then reefers—all to erase my embarrassing background. (4.3)

    Why does he bother with the zoot suits and other stuff? To fit in.

    Have you ever heard of conspicuous consumption? It's spending money on luxury goods (a.k.a. stuff you don't need) in order to increase your social status. In other words, it's buying the newest iPad so that everyone will think you're cool. And that's exactly what Malcolm X is doing when he buys his zoot suit, drugs, and alcohol. And he's not alone.

    There are tons of other young men and women who are trying to seem cooler by doing the same things he did. Malcolm X writes:

    These ghetto teen-agers see the hell caught by their parents struggling to get somewhere, or see that they have given up struggling in the prejudiced, intolerant white man's world. The ghetto teenagers make up their own minds they would rather be like the hustlers whom they see dressed "sharp" and flashing money and displaying no respect for anybody or anything. So the ghetto youth become attracted to the hustler worlds of dope, thievery, prostitution, and general crime and immorality. (16.153)

    Since these kids see no hope for gaining any kind of social status in dominant society, they look to the ghetto world for respect and to improve their self-esteems.

    But you probably also noticed that Malcolm X forgot all about that stuff when he joined the Nation of Islam. He didn't need a suit or drugs to feel important. The Nation of Islam taught him that all black people are inherently better than white people. But even after he realized that statement wasn't exactly true, Malcolm X retained his sense of self-worth. Who needs a zoot suit when you've got that?

  • Conk

    Nowadays we call this hair straightening process getting a relaxer, but back in Malcolm's day he got a conk. There is only one time in his life when Malcolm's hair is chemically straightened on a regular basis, and that's when he's a hustler. Before that, he was just a country bumpkin. So it's not until he becomes integrated into Boston's city culture that he actually straightens his hair.

    We could go on and on telling you about the symbolism behind the conk, but Malcolm has already explained it for us. He says:

    This was my first really big step toward self-degradation: when I endured all of that pain, literally burning my flesh to have it look like a white man's hair. I had joined that multitude of N**** men and women in America who are brainwashed into believing that the black people are "inferior"—and white people "superior"—that they will even violate and mutilate their God-created bodies to try to look "pretty" by white standards. (3.91)

    Now, you might wonder why Malcolm is making such a big deal about someone changing their hairstyle. The thing is, this hair straightening process is not as simple as blow drying or dying your hair. It uses chemicals that actually destroy the structure of the hair in order to make it lay straight. The same chemicals that destroy the hair can also destroy the skin on your scalp. Actually the chemical, sodium hydroxide, is so destructive that it can dissolve an entire soda can. So imagine what it can do to your body. When you understand this, the phrase "mutilation" doesn't seem to be an exaggeration anymore.

    While there are currently many discussions and arguments about the politics of black people straightening their hair, one popular explanation of why the process is—and has been—done is to look more like white people. This explanation makes perfect sense when we consider the pedestal white women stand on in terms of beauty standards. When black people participate in hair straightening practices, then, the implication is that in order to be beautiful they must resemble white people. Whew! That's a lot of meaning to put into a hairstyle.

    Malcolm finally gets rid of his conk when he becomes a member of the Nation of Islam. Here's what he says about that:

    Few temple meetings were held, for instance, without the minister looking down upon some freshly shaved bald domes of new Muslim brothers in the audience. They had just banished from their lives forever that phony, lye-conked, metallic-looking hair, or "the process," as some call it these days. It grieves me that I don't care where you go, you see this symbol of ignorance and self-hate on so many N****es' heads. I know it's bound to hurt the feelings of some of my good conked non-Muslim friends—but if you study closely any conked or "processed" N****, you usually find he is an ignorant N****. Whatever "show" or "front" he affects, his hair lye-cooked to be "white-looking" fairly shouts to everyone who looks at his head, "I'm ashamed to be a N****." He will discover, just as I did, that he will be much-improved mentally whenever he discovers enough black self-pride to have that mess clipped off, and then wear the natural hair that God gives black men to wear. (14.144)

    Malcolm and other new members of the Nation of Islam cut off their chemically processed hair as a symbol of the change in their mentality. The Nation of Islam believed that African Americans were the superior people, so for them there was no need to change their bodies to look like another race.

    It's no wonder that the "Black is Beautiful" movement started around the same time as Malcolm's activism.

  • Wristwatch, Suitcase, Eyeglasses

    When Malcolm gets out of jail, the first thing he does is purchase three things: eyeglasses, a watch, and a suitcase. Even though these may seem like three unimportant items, they have a ton of symbolic value.

    Did you notice that these are the only worldly possessions that Malcolm talks about after his conversion to the Nation of Islam? Before that, he was always getting some new car or new suit or something like that. But now these are the only three things he keeps in his life. This alone should tell you that they're pretty important.


    Malcolm gets his eyeglasses before he leaves prison, but since he buys new ones they still get to count. He tells us how he got them:

    I had come to prison with 20/20 vision. But when I got sent back to Charlestown, I had read so much by the lights-out glow in my room at the Norfolk Prison Colony that I had astigmatism and the first pair of the eyeglasses that I have worn ever since. (11.115)

    So for Malcolm his astigmatism is inseparable from the time that he spent in prison educating himself. Not only that, but just as he will always have astigmatism, Malcolm also we always have his new passion for learning.


    Why do people need watches? Because they have some place to be and something to do. Before he reformed his life, Malcolm never had any reason to own a watch. He had no place to be, nothing to do, no grand aspirations for his life. But after prison, Malcolm has a passion for the Nation of Islam. Now that he has a purpose, he has to use his time efficiently. He says:

    And you won't find anybody more time-conscious than I am. I live by my watch, keeping appointments. Even when I'm using my car, I drive by my watch, not my speedometer. Time is more important to me than distance. (12.6)

    For a person who really wants to get something done, every second counts.


    There aren't a lot of people in the world who need to have two suitcases packed at all times so that they can travel at a moment's notice. Malcolm X certainly didn't need to be ready to go at a moment's notice when he was growing up. But after he joins the Nation of Islam, life kicks into high gear. He says: “I travel so much now that my wife keeps alternate suitcases packed so that, when necessary, I can just grab one" (12.6). So the suitcase is kind of like the watch.

    Malcolm has never needed a suitcase in his entire life until now. We know he literally needs to be ready to travel for the Nation of Islam, but what about symbolically? Symbolically, Malcolm is ready to do anything that the Nation needs at any time Elijah Muhammad might need it. We don't think it would even be a stretch to say that he is also ready to die and has packed his metaphorical life suitcase.

  • Narrator Point of View

    First Person (Central Narrator) 

    There's no doubt about it, no one but Malcolm X could be telling this story. The narration is first person, and almost feels like Malcolm X is sitting in a chair in front of us telling us his life story. For example:

    I remember well how my mother asked me why I couldn't be a nice boy like Wilfred; but I would think to myself that Wilfred, for being so nice and quiet, often stayed hungry. So early in life, I had learned that if you want something, you had better make some noise. (1.26)

    In this story about his childhood, Malcolm X draws both on his past and his present understanding. Instead of trying to tell his life story as if he were a character in a novel, he tells it as you would expect any normal person to tell it. So we get the feeling that this is the absolute truth.

    Only one problem. Malcolm X is not sitting in front of us telling this story. He’s sitting in front of Alex Haley, 50 times, for two or three hours at a time. We only have the illusion that this is a whole coherent story. Now, why would Haley do that? Think about it, if you read The Autobiography of Malcolm X, you want it to be something primarily written by him. That's what makes it an autobiography. But we're pretty sure that Alex Haley had more than a little role in the creation of this book.

    So as you read Malcolm X's story, remember that the choice of the first-person central narrator is a very deliberate one. When you remember that, how does it change your understanding of the story?

  • Booker's Seven Basic Plots Analysis

    Initial Wretchedness At Home And The Call

    Malcolm's home life is a nightmare. White racists kill his father. His mother's sanity is destroyed by government officials and their attempts to break up his family. Oh, and he's starving and poor. But there is a light. His half-sister Ella lives in Boston, and Malcolm thinks that might just be the way out of his situation

    Out Into The World

    When Malcolm moves to Boston he becomes a hustler and has friends and money for the first time in his life. He even has a white girlfriend. Everything seems like it is going to be great, but this period of prosperity comes to a screeching halt when Malcolm gets thrown into jail for burglary.

    But wait, Malcolm overcomes even this obstacle by joining the Nation of Islam and dedicating his life to its cause. He's finally putting his intellect to good use and doing something that will benefit his fellow man. What could go wrong?

    The Central Crisis

    Everything. Everything goes wrong. Malcolm believes in the leader Muhammad more than he believes in anything else in the entire world, but when it is revealed that Elijah is a hypocritical adulterer he just can't deal. Then when he learns that Mr. Muhammad is jealous of him, things get even worse. The crushing blow is Malcolm's expulsion from the Nation of Islam, which almost makes him lose his mind. This is his darkest hour.

    Independence And Final Ordeal

    Malcolm emerges from the crisis over his expulsion from the Nation of Islam as a new man. He develops new ideas, starts his own independent organization, and seems even closer to his goal than he was before. While the Nation of Islam was holding him back, he's now free to do what he needs to do. Normally this stage in the rags to riches story comes right before the protagonist fights the final boss. Okay, more like the rags to riches video game. You catch our drift, though.

    Final Union, Completion, And Fulfillment

    Normally this stage in a rags to riches story includes the hero beating the boss, getting the girl or guy, acquiring vast riches, and generally basking in their own awesomeness. This never happens in Malcolm's story, though. We guess we should call it a rags to... rags story? Racism still exists. His Pan-African dream is never fulfilled. And Malcolm was killed shortly after he finishes dictating this book. So yeah, no happily ever after here.

  • Plot Analysis

    Initial Situation

    Born To A Broken Family

    Malcolm X is born and raised in the country, where racism is so prevalent that his family frequently clashes with local KKK and Black Legion groups. This results in his father's death, his mother's mental breakdown, and the destruction of his family home. Knowing that Malcolm is a country bumpkin from a broken home helps us to understand how his personality changes as the book continues.

    Rising Action

    What's Wrong With The N-Word?

    Malcolm gets sent to a detention home and moves away from his siblings. Everything seems to be going fine enough (considering that his dad is dead and his mom is institutionalized) until he goes to Boston to visit his half-sister, Ella. Boston changes everything, and suddenly when he returns home he can't stand the white people around him using the N-word anymore. Malcolm leaves his school, moves to Boston, and enters a life of crime. This is just the beginning of Malcolm's problems, so we're not at the climax yet, but things are definitely heating up.


    But He Loved You, He Really Loved You!

    All that crime doesn't pay and Malcolm winds up in jail. While he's in jail, he converts to the Nation of Islam and becomes a devotee of Elijah Muhammad. Once he gets out of the slammer, Malcolm becomes Mr. Muhammad's right-hand man. But this all comes crashing down around him when a scandal and jealousy kicks him out of his new community. You know this has to be the climax, because it's the most emotionally disturbing thing that happens to Malcolm during the entire autobiography.

    Falling Action

    One Love

    Malcolm doesn't need those guys anyway. He goes to Mecca on the Hajj and learns all kinds of new things about Islam. He changes his view about white people and racism, and embraces Pan-Africanism. Even though he's still hurt by the things that happened in the Nation of Islam, Malcolm is getting over it. Things are finally starting to calm down.


    Ready to Die

    The conclusion of The Autobiography of Malcolm X is not exactly a conclusion. We all know that Malcolm X was assassinated, and the book ends with his prediction that he will be killed and vilified in his death. So the conclusion of Malcolm X's story is kind of implied, but it doesn't really happen on the page.

  • Three-Act Plot Analysis

    Act I

    A One-Way Ticket to Boston

    Malcolm X only gets six short years before his family is torn apart by the death of his father and the nervous breakdown of his mother. He and his siblings become wards of the state, but when he meets his half-sister Ella, he starts to dream of living in Boston. That's when everything starts to change.

    Act II

    Y U So Jelly?

    In the next stage of Malcolm's life, he goes through all kinds of transformations. He starts out as a wide-eyed country bumpkin, turns into a big-time dancer, becomes a drug dealer, and lands in jail. From there he converts to the Nation of Islam, becomes a minister, and rises to the number two spot in the Nation of Islam. But that's where the hardest part of his journey begins because jealousy and scandal make Malcolm's life way harder than it ever was when he was hustling on the streets.

    Act III

    It's A New Day, It's A New Dawn, It's A New Life

    That whole excommunication thing was pretty bad, but Malcolm eventually gets over it. He starts his own black nationalist organization, leaves the Nation of Islam, learns more about Islam, and develops his own unique position on the issue of black rights. Normally act three would end with a satisfying conclusion, but in The Autobiography, the end is only implied. And we know what it is. It's Malcolm's death.