“The Autobiography of Malcolm X” by Malcolm X and Alex Haley presents various central ideas that add to its overall meaning. These themes are highlighted and developed through key events throughout the life of Malcolm X. Most of the critical events in the text interact to create major themes like systematic oppression, integration v. separation, perception, and religion. The essential ideas are more vivid when Mr. Ostrowski lectures Malcolm, when Malcolm is imprisoned and learns the teachings of the Honourable Elijah Muhammad, and when Malcolm makes his pilgrimage to Mecca. Thanks to the three interactive events, the central ideas appear related and iterdependent, helping the text’s overall meaning be understandable. It is thus critical to demonstrate how the three key events interact to develop the themes and portray how Malcolm’s spiritual journey to Mecca becomes his turning point.
The first event highlights systematic oppression, perception, and separation. When Malcolm goes to school to become a lawyer and meets Mr. Ostrowski, the teacher downplays Malcolm’s desires. The experience with the teacher helps Malcolm understand the sarcasm in the widespread integration campaigns in the United States. Mr. Ostrowski tells him, “Malcolm … you’ve got to be realistic about being a nigger. A lawyer- that’s no realistic goal for a nigger … everybody admires your carpentry shop work. Why don’t you plan on carpentry? People like you as a person- you’d get all kinds of work” (X and Haley 38). The teacher’s assertions echo the systematic oppression against African Americans. According to Mr. Ostrowski, black people in the days of Malcolm could not secure anything white collar. Hence, for ambitious African Americans like Malcolm to achieve their professional goals, they must consider separation. Mr. Ostrowski’s lecture highlights the existence of systematic oppression and alienation, heightening the urge for black people to exist as a separate society.
Secondly, the Honourable Elijah Muhammad’s teaching Malcolm acquires while in prison entails a significant event that profoundly builds the understanding of systematic oppression, integration against separation, perception, and religion. The founder of the Nation of Islam and Malcolm’s spiritual teacher induced most of the unpopular ideologies into Malcolm. The Honourable Elijah Muhammad teaches Malcolm, “the only way the black people caught … can be saved is not to integrate into this corrupt society, but to separate from it, to a land of our own, where we can reform ourselves, lift up our moral standards, and try to be godly” (X and Haley 234). Since Malcolm had experienced racism as a child and young adult, Mohammad’s race ideology makes profound sense to Malcolm. The impact of the encounter leads Malcolm to embrace more divergent thoughts and views regarding the differences between white and black people. Hence, Malcolm is witnessed speaking against black oppression, encouraging black people to be self-motivated and self-reliant. Indeed, the event played a central role in understanding systematic oppression, integration against separation, perception, and religion.
However, the central ideas in the text are uniquely adopted in the text when Malcolm arrives in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, for Hajji in 1964, shortly after falling out with the Nation of Islam. Although he goes to Mecca for spiritual change, Malcolm acquires a political turning point after witnessing people of all races and colors integrating. While people of all races and colors approach each other with respect in Mecca, Malcolm is forced to compare the situation with what is boiling in the United States, where people breathe in and out discrimination and systematic oppression. The event is significant because it helps Malcolm to appreciate the true face of Islam, changing his name to “El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz” (X and Haley 390), and disregarding the misguided teachings he acquired earlier about systematic oppression from Mr. Ostrowski and “complete separation from the white man” from Honourable Elijah Mohammad (X and Haley 234). After realizing how white and black people can co-exist and respect each other, Malcolm develops independent thinking and peaceful opinions. Hence, readers appreciate a dramatically different perspective of systematic oppression, integration against separation, perception, and religion when they travel along with Malcolm to Mecca and experience the non-discriminatory environment in the text.
Therefore, the three key events in the text help track how the critical ideas that “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” presents develop. The influential teachings of Mr. Ostrowski in school and the Honourable Elijah Mohammad in prison about the discrimination of black people are related key events that combine to profoundly inspire Malcolm to demonstrate an aggressive approach against systematic oppression, integration, perception, and religion. The teachings helped Malcolm gain popularity as a preacher of the Nation of Islam ideology against black oppression, wanting black people to separate from a society dominated by white supremacy. However, after Malcolm lands in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, the event becomes crucial in Malcolm’s reconsideration of his earlier teachings. In Mecca, he learns the beauty of people of different races and colors integrating. Hence, the Mecca event is why he develops independent, peaceful thinking and opinions. Indeed, through the three events, readers understand the text’s development of systematic oppression, integration against separation, perception, and religion, with the Mecca event becoming more significant.
X, Malcolm, and Alex Haley. The Autobiography of Malcolm X. Ballantine Books, 2015.