It’s somewhat sad that the Autobiography of Malcolm X is also meant to be a specific political and social message, as well as serve as a brilliant account of the life of a thoughtful and brave leader. X thought he would be dead by the time the book came out, and was also probably a little concerned about what he wanted his reluctant critics to think about him: so that they would take his message seriously. So, instead of celebrating change for change’s sake, X decided to underplay it, to an extent that if don’t watch out for it, the book will seem more like a testament to the angst and the rage of the African American in mid-nineteenth century. It is that, I don’t deny it; but it’s also an account of a man’s life – a life of change: change in reverence of concepts, in thoughts, in mind-sets, in lifestyle, and more so, a change in life itself.
Malcolm X went from being a shoe-shiner, to a hustler peddling drugs in the Harlem ghettos, to armed robbery in Boston’s Roxbury area, to prison (where he had all his education – not the kind which prisons typically dish out), to being a minister in a temple, to being the most ardent mouth-piece for a socio-religious movement, to revelation in Mecca, to being the charismatic leader of African-Americans, to a martyr.
We see these transitions through X’s eyes; and this has to be attributed to the writing skills of Alex Haley, who ghostwrote the Autobiography. But what hit me more was that though the changes are what the book is about, X’s thoughts preceding his committing to any change is never discussed. Some changes, he had no hand in them; some others, he went through them while knowing that they would alter the very nature of his built up case, cause, and life. He clearly explains why he changed, but he never touches upon what he went through before these changes. The uncertainty of any major self-orchestrated life change is what I would have loved to see X muse upon…….Every such change in my life, however miniscule it might be, makes me wonder…..
Apart from that one complaint, there is also a shocking lack of supreme skepticism about religion in the book. Someone as sharp, as obviously intelligent, and as widely read, embracing a new religion to the extent of being ready to die for it – makes me conclude that the driving forces must have been of an order of magnitude that I cannot even imagine. Maybe in a larger context of history, it will all make sense. A must read.
ps: Most house burglars get thwarted by dim lights of bathrooms.