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Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors
used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.
The conk, a popular hairstyle that involves straightening
out nappy hair with a host of caustic chemicals, is an emblem of
black self-denial. Blacks conk their hair in an attempt to look
more like white people, and their willingness to alter a feature
of their body violently underscores how much they want to conceal
their blackness. The conk is popular with rich and poor blacks alike,
showing how blacks of all classes experience self-hatred. Though
Malcolm conks his hair when he first moves to Boston, in prison
he realizes how much mental energy he has been wasting on trying
to conform to an impossible image of white good looks. Later, as
an orator canvassing on the street, Malcolm criticizes American
blacks for trying to change their African features. He sees the
conk as one item in a long list, including faith in Christian religion
and obsession with white women, of counterproductive black imitations
of white culture.
The wristwatch, suitcase, and eyeglasses that Malcolm
purchases upon his release from prison symbolize his commitment
as a free man to a career of efficient work, frequent travel to
spread the message of Islam, and constant study and reflection.
The watch represents Malcolm’s industriousness, as he becomes extremely conscious
of his daily schedule and organizes his life carefully. The suitcase,
which Malcolm begins using in his professional life, represents
Malcolm’s sacrifice of his personal life to his aspirations in the Nation
of Islam. The glasses represent his ongoing commitment to the further
development of his views as well as his broad vision for the future
of black people in America.
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Autobiography of Malcolm X!