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Free Study Guide-The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X-Free Notes
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Chapters 3 & 4

Summary

These two chapters describe Malcolm's life in Boston. As soon as he arrives at Ella's place, he goes around the city looking for any job he could do.

His first job, which he gets with the help of his friend Shorty, is that of a shoeshine boy at Roseland State ballroom. Shorty worked in a pool hall. Malcolm happened to be watching through the glass windows of the pool hall when Shorty walked out. They started to talk and during the course of the conversation, the dark stubby man-Shorty, learns that Malcolm came from his own hometown. Shorty is overjoyed and calls Malcolm his 'Homeboy'.

Malcolm spends the entire afternoon with Shorty, watching him work in the pool hall. While he worked, he introduces Malcolm to his friends and acquaintances. He also tells them that his 'buddy' is looking for work and if they hear of anything to let him know. That evening when Malcolm gets home, Ella tells him that Shorty had called, saying that the Roseland State Ballroom needs a shoeshine boy as the current shoeshine boy is leaving the same night.

Malcolm leaves for the ballroom and he meets Freddie the shoeshine boy. He describes the job to Malcolm. A shoeshine boy at the ballroom is extremely busy during the period between the dances. The person had to be extremely quick with his hands. Apart from shining shoes, he could also provide the visitors and the musicians with towels and liquor, which could be acquired for 'two bits a piece.' Malcolm's work at the ballroom put him in touch with several musicians, some of whom, later became his close friends.

Besides helping him with the job, Shorty also takes Malcolm along for the wild parties, card playing, smoking, and betting that was an integral part of the nightlife in Harlem. Moreover, the first 'conk' (a process by which the curly negro hair is straightened to make it look like the hair, white men have) that Malcolm had was done by Shorty. Shorty and all his friends always wore a conk. So when Malcolm's hair was long enough for a conk, Shorty asks him to buy a list of things needed for the 'conk'. The list consists of a can of Red devil lye, two eggs, two medium sized white potatoes, a jar of Vaseline, a bar of soap, a large toothed comb, a fine toothed comb and one rubber hose with a metal spray head, a rubber apron, and a pair of gloves. After getting everything, Malcolm went to Shorty's rented apartment (which Shorty shared with his cousin). Malcolm watched Shorty as he poured the lye in a fruit jar of thin sliced potatoes. Stirring the mixture with a wooden spoon, Shorty informs Malcolm that a metal spoon would turn black due to the lye. Shorty added two eggs to the mixture as he stirred vigorously. Shorty asks Malcolm to feel the jar from the outside. Malcolm had to snatch his hand away from the jar, as it was very hot.


Shorty warns him that the lye is going to burn when it is combed into the hair. It burns very badly. But the longer, a person can stand the burn, the straighter will his hair become. The lye, when combed into Malcolm's hair almost cooks his skin. But Malcolm controls himself by gritting his teeth and holding the kitchen table very tightly. It burns so much that Malcolm's eyes and nose begin to water. Finally, it becomes so bad that Malcolm begins shouting curses at Shorty. Shorty sprays Malcolm's hair and washes it with soap. After drying his wet hair with a towel, Malcolm looks in the mirror and sees that his red hair hanging down in limp damp strings. Shorty put Vaseline in his hair and combed it back with a big-toothed comb and later with a fine-toothed one. Giving a final touch to the 'conk' Shorty used a razor to shape the side-burns. Malcolm is stunned to see his own reflection in the mirror. For on his head was this thick red-absolutely-red hair and as straight as that of a white man. Both Shorty and Malcolm stand watching it in admiration. Malcolm decides then and there that henceforth, he will conk his hair regularly.

Malcolm does not stay very long at his first job. Very soon he leaves it to work at a drug store. Ella gets him a job there operating the soda fountain. Although Malcolm does not like the atmosphere there, he stays on until he is able to find another job. It is during this period that he meets Laura. Laura is a shy, pretty black girl who lives a few blocks away from the drug store. She visits the store often after school. During one of her visits, she takes the initiative to make conversation with him. Malcolm learns that Laura is an orphan, staying with her grandma who is extremely strict. When she (Laura) finds out Malcolm had left school, she encourages him to study further.

As Malcolm and Laura grew close to each other, Malcolm began to take Laura to parties. They were mainly dance parties, where young boys and girls did 'Lindy hopping'. To his surprise Laura could Lindy, hop very well. She became Malcolm's best Lindy hopping partner, at the night parties.

Laura becomes extremely fond of Malcolm. She overcomes stiff opposition from her grandmother just to be with him.

Malcolm dumps her for a white girl named Sophia that he meets at one of the Lindy dancing parties. Later, as an adult, when Malcolm becomes a minister at the Nation of Islam, he regrets his actions. He holds himself solely responsible for destroying young Laura's life.

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