The Autobiography of Malcolm X

Main Ideas

Key Facts

Main Ideas Key Facts

full title  The Autobiography of Malcolm X

author Alex Haley wrote the work based on his extensive interviews with Malcolm X.

type of work Nonfiction

genre Autobiography; memoir

language English

date of first publication 1965

publisher Grove Press

narrator Malcolm tells his life story while he is in the last years of his life. Alex Haley recounts the end of Malcolm’s life in the epilogue.

point of view Malcolm speaks in the first person, focusing on his actions and thoughts at each point in his life. However, in each chapter he does include some opinions based on his current perspective late in his life. In the epilogue, Alex Haley speaks in the first person.

tone Malcolm alternates between simply presenting the events of his life and commenting on their social context. His tone ranges from matter-of-fact to angry.

tense Past

setting (time) 19251965

setting (place) United States (Omaha, Lansing, Boston, New York, Chicago, and Detroit), the Middle East, and Africa

protagonist Malcolm, who is known as Malcolm Little, Detroit Red, Malcolm X, and El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz at various points in his life

major conflict Malcolm struggles against both the racism of white America and the internal problems of various civil rights organizations.

rising action After the government tears apart his family and he can no longer bear the racism of his all-white high school in Michigan, Malcolm flees to Boston and Harlem, where he sinks deep into a life of crime.

climax Malcolm’s conversion to Islam in prison after long hours of studying puts him on a course to rise in the ranks of the Nation of Islam.

falling action After rising to fame as a fiery Muslim minister, Malcolm leaves the Nation of Islam to discover a more tolerant and global worldview.

themes Malcolm’s changing perspective on racism; the similarity between hustling and activism; humanity as a basic right

motifs Status symbols; travel and transformation

symbols The conk; the watch, suitcase, and eyeglasses

foreshadowing Malcolm’s peaceful surrender to a Boston detective foreshadows his later submission to the Nation of Islam leader, Elijah Muhammad. Malcolm’s description of his father’s murder and his assertion that he too will die violently foreshadows his own assassination.