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Free Study Guide-The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X-Free Notes
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KEY LITERARY ELEMENTS

SETTING

This autobiography is set in America. Spanning a period of four decades from 1925 to 1965, the book is a moving saga of America's most controversial Black Muslim leader- Malcolm X. Malcolm spends his boyhood in Lansing, Michigan after his family moves from Omaha, Nebraska in 1929. He is imprisoned at the age of twenty. It is during his imprisonment that he converts to Islam, and educates himself in history and religion.

From "Detroit Red" to the fiery outspoken minister of the Nation of Islam, he travels all over the US, espousing the cause of black unity and emancipation. The book traces Malcolm's childhood in Lansing and follows him to Boston, Detroit and onto Harlem, giving the reader an insight into the life of the average black man in a society divided on racial lines.

LIST OF CHARACTERS

Major Characters

Malcolm X

The hero of the novel. The book is about his life and times. Through his own experiences, he tells the reader what it is like to be a black. The racial discrimination that he faces since childhood is a reflection of the discrimination and harassment faced by thousands of blacks in the U.S.

Rev. Earl Little

Malcolm X's father. He is a preacher in a Baptist church. He is also an active member of and organizer for the organization founded by Marcus Garvey (UNIA-Universal Negro Improvement Association). Earl Little and his family are constantly threatened and harassed by Ku Klux Klan members due to his activities as a member of Garvey's organization. Yet he continues to organize the blacks in and around his village until the Klan members kill him.

Louise Little

Malcolm X's mother. She is a strong woman who tries to keep her family together after her husband's death. But the constant interference from the Welfare Department during the depression years breaks her will.

Ella Little

The tall, domineering and independent sister of Malcolm X. She is extremely fond of Malcolm and stands by him like a rock during the most difficult phases of his life.


Laura

The pretty black girl whom young Malcolm meets in Boston (his first date). She is heart broken when Malcolm leaves her for a white girl called Sophia. The rejection coupled with her own problems at home pushes her towards drugs and prostitution.

Shorty

The young black boy, (though much older than Malcolm), who Malcolm meets and befriends in Boston. Shorty helps him get a job and settle down in the new city.

Sammy

A pimp and a drug dealer. Malcolm meets him in Harlem. For some time he even works under Sammy until he forms his own gang.

Elijah Muhammad

The founder and spiritual leader of the Nation of Islam. Malcolm is deeply influenced by his teachings while he is in jail. Through out the book Malcolm refers to him with great respect and admits that it was his teaching, as well as affection, that was largely responsible for his transformation.

Reginald Little

Malcolm's younger brother. He is extremely fond of Malcolm. He is the one that first reveals the teachings of the Nation of Islam to Malcolm.

Minor Characters

West Indian Archie

A tall hefty black man in Harlem who handles a part of the hustling racket. Hustling is a kind of speculation where people bet their money on numbers. Malcolm works under Archie as a hustler till they break up due to a misunderstanding.

Wilfrid Little

Malcolm's older brother. He is a member of the Nation of Islam. He accepts Malcolm into his family after he is released from prison.

Wallace Muhammad

Elijah Muhammadís son. He and Malcolm X become close friends in the Nation of Islam.

Cassius Clay (later known as Muhammad Ali)

The world Heavyweight boxing champion, who is influenced by Malcolm X and becomes a member of the Nation of Islam.

The Swerlins

The white couple in charge of the detention home, where Malcolm lived between 1937-40.

Mr. Shawarbi

Dr. Shawarbi was a United Nations advisor and director of the Federation of Islamic Associations in the U.S. and Canada. Malcolm X meets him before leaving for Mecca.

Sister Betty

Malcolm's wife and mother of five. She travels with Malcolm and is present when he is assassinated.

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