Study Guide

The Autobiography of Malcolm X Mortality

By Malcolm X and Alex Haley


What my father could not know then was that of the remaining three, including himself, only one, my Uncle Jim, would die in bed, of natural causes. [...] It has always been my belief that I, too, will die by violence. (1.2)

This is the first of many times that Malcolm X tells us he expects to be killed. It is also reason number one: because his dad and uncles also died violently.

Sometimes, recalling all of this, I don't know, to tell the truth, how I am alive to tell it today. They say God takes care of fools and babies. I've so often thought that Allah was watching over me. Through all of this time of my life, I really was dead—mentally dead. I just didn't know that I was. (7.99)

Here Malcolm X is referring to the years where he was hustling in Boston and Harlem. What does he mean by mentally dead?

Looking back, I think I really was at least slightly out of my mind. I viewed narcotics as most people regard food. I wore my guns as today I wear my neckties. Deep down, I actually believed that after living as fully as humanly possible, one should then die violently. I expected then, as I still expect today, to die at any time. But then, I think I deliberately invited death in many, sometimes insane, ways. (9.31)

Another term for this mentality is live fast, die young. Or as you young ones say, YOLO. It's also reason number two that Malcolm thinks he's going to die.

Talking to them, laying down the plans, I had deliberately sat on a bed away from them. All of a sudden, I pulled out my gun, shook out all five bullets, and then let them see me put back only one bullet. I twirled the cylinder, and put the muzzle to my head. 

"Now, I'm going to see how much guts all of you have," I said.

I grinned at them. All of their mouths had flapped open. I pulled the trigger-we all heard it click

"I'm going to do it again, now."

They begged me to stop. I could see in Shorty's and Rudy's eyes some idea of rushing me. 

We all heard the hammer click on another empty cylinder. 

The women were in hysterics. Rudy and Shorty were begging, "Man. . . Red. . . cut it out, man!. . . Freeze!" I pulled the trigger once more.

"I'm doing this, showing you I'm not afraid to die," I told them. "Never cross a man not afraid to die. . . now, let's get to work!" (9.58)

At this point in the book, Malcolm X is at the end of his rope. He's addicted to drugs, he has no money, and he's even been run out of Harlem. He doesn't say it in the book, but that situation combined with this scene of actively trying to kill himself tells us that he was probably depressed.

The blond-haired, blue-eyed white man has taught you and me to worship a white Jesus, and to shout and sing and pray to this God that's his God, the white man's God. The white man has taught us to shout and sing and pray until we die, to wait until death, for some dreamy heaven-in-the-hereafter, when we're dead, while this white man has his milk and honey in the streets paved with golden dollars right here on this earth! (13.58)

While Christianity teaches that the poor will inherit the earth when they join God in heaven, the Nation of Islam teaches that there is no afterlife. How do you think these two different ways of thinking about death can affect how people live their lives?

And, speaking of funerals, I should mention that we never failed to get some new Muslims when non-Muslims, family and friends of a Muslim deceased, attended our short, moving ceremony that illustrated Mr. Muhammad's teaching, "Christians have their funerals for the living, ours are for our departed." (13.73)

The final sentence in that quote is kind of strange, isn't it? Aren't everybody's funerals for dead people? What Malcolm X means is Christians have ornate and elaborate funerals in comparison to members of the Nation of Islam. To him that's because Christians are attempting to ease the pain of losing someone. On the other hand, since dead people don't really care about parties, Nation of Islam funerals are pretty simple.

But I was to learn later that Mr. Muhammad's teaching about death and the Muslim funeral service was in drastic contradiction to what Islam taught in the East. (13.77)

The Islamic belief of the afterlife is actually pretty similar to the Christian belief. So, why do you think Elijah Muhammad preached that there was no afterlife at all?

The death talk was not my fear. Every second of my twelve years with Mr. Muhammad, I had been ready to lay down my life for him. The thing to me worse than death was the betrayal. I could conceive death. (16.123)

Yeah, after all of these years thinking he's gonna die we're sure Malcolm X isn't afraid of death. Why is the betrayal of Elijah Muhammad worse than death?

To come right down to it, if I take the kind of things in which I believe, then add to that the kind of temperament that I have, plus the one hundred per cent dedication I have to whatever I believe in—these are ingredients which make it just about impossible for me to die of old age. (19.76)

Reason number three Malcolm thinks he's going to die: he's just too dedicated to being an activist for black rights.

I know, too, that I could suddenly die at the hands of some white racists. Or I could die at the hands of some N**** hired by the white man. Or it could be some brainwashed N**** acting on his own idea that by eliminating me he would be helping out the white man, because I talk about the white man the way I do. (19.92)

Reasons numbers four, five, and six... We think you get it. The point is Malcolm X is not afraid to die because he believes in the cause he's fighting for. Unfortunately for him, reason number six ended up being the reason why he was actually assassinated.

This is a premium product

Tired of ads?

Join today and never see them again.

Please Wait...