Study Guide

The Autobiography of Malcolm X Transformation

By Malcolm X and Alex Haley


It was then that I began to change—inside. I drew away from white people. (2.78)

Malcolm makes this statement when he returns to Michigan after visiting Boston for the first time. It's his first major transformation moment, and it happens because he realizes that in some places black people have their own communities where they are not called the N-word. Imagine that.

If I had stayed on in Michigan, I would probably have married one of those N**** girls I knew and liked in Lansing. I might have become one of those state capitol building shoeshine boys, or a Lansing Country Club waiter, or gotten one of the other menial jobs which, in those days, among Lansing N****es, would have been considered "successful"—or even become a carpenter. (2.90)

For anyone else, any of these lives would have been a pretty good deal. But we guess Malcolm X has some pretty high standards.

Every instinct of the ghetto jungle streets, every hustling fox and criminal wolf instinct in me, which would have scoffed at and rejected anything else, was struck numb. It was as though all of that life merely was back there, without any remaining effect, or influence. (10.106)

This movement comes after Malcolm's brother Reginald tells him about the Nation of Islam. Why do you think Malcolm X accepted his brother’s religion instead of rejecting it? Why was Reginald able to change Malcolm, while Philbert was not?

For the next years, I was the nearest thing to a hermit in the Norfolk Prison Colony. I never have been more busy in my life. I still marvel at how swiftly my previous life's thinking pattern slid away from me, like snow off a roof. It is as though someone else I knew of had lived by hustling and crime. I would be startled to catch myself thinking in a remote way of my earlier self as another person. (11.10)

Two of the great transformational moments in Malcolm X's life occurred while he's in prison. What is it about prison that makes it so easy for him to change his entire personality? Do you think he would've been able to do this if he was still on the streets?

He was The Messenger of Allah. When I was a foul, vicious convict, so evil that other convicts had called me Satan, this man had rescued me. He was the man who had trained me, who had treated me as if I were his own flesh and blood. He was the man who had given me wingsto go places, to do things I otherwise never would have dreamed of. We walked, with me caught up in a whirlwind of emotions. (16.63)

You could almost see The Autobiography of Malcolm X as a love letter to Elijah Muhammad. Malcolm X attributes his entire life after prison to this guy.

In America, "white man" meant specific attitudes and actions toward the black man, and toward all other non-white men. But in the Muslim world, I had seen that men with white complexions were more genuinely brotherly than anyone else had ever been. That morning was the start of a radical alteration in my whole outlook about "white" men. (17.76)

Malcolm says these words after he goes to Mecca to perform the Hajji. Have you noticed a theme in his transformational moments? What relation does travel have to change in Malcolm X's life? What about religion?

"You may be shocked by these words coming from me. But on this pilgrimage, what I have seen, and experienced, has forced me to re-arrange much of my thought-patterns previously held, and to toss aside some of my previous conclusions. This was not too difficult for me. Despite my firm convictions, I have been always a man who tries to face facts, and to accept the reality of life as new experience and new knowledge unfolds it. I have always kept an open mind, which is necessary to the flexibility that must go hand in hand with every form of intelligent search for truth." (17.120)

This is an excerpt from Malcolm X's "Letter from Mecca." What do you think was the purpose of writing this letter? Who was the letter sent to? Why might they be shocked by Malcolm X's new philosophy?

Largely, the American white man's press refused to convey that I was now attempting to teach N****es a new direction. (19.11)

We guess the American press is not as comfortable with change and transformation as Malcolm X is. Maybe he should've tried Twitter.

I have always understood that's why I have been so frequently called "a revolutionist." It sounds as if I have done some crime! Well, it may be the American black man does need to become involved in a real revolution. The word for "revolution" in German is Umwalzung. What it means is a complete overturn—a complete change. (19.20)

Why do you think some people called Malcolm X a revolutionist in a negative manner? What do you think they meant by the term "revolutionist?" How is it different from what Malcolm X explains a revolution to be?

The N****'s so-called "revolt" is merely an asking to be accepted into the existing system! A true N**** revolt might entail, for instance, fighting for separate black states within this country—which several groups and individuals have advocated, long before Elijah Muhammad came along. (19.20)

Malcolm X seems to be saying that a real revolt would probably be a violent one. We won't lie; most of the results that we can think of have been pretty bloody. Do you think that it is possible to have a true revolt (a.k.a. a complete change in a system) without violence? Why or why not?

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