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Free Study Guide-The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X-Free Notes
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Chapters 10 & 11

Summary (continued)

Influenced by all he had heard from Hilda and Reginald, Malcolm decides to write to Elijah Muhammad. He was really ashamed of his letter because his handwriting was hardly legible and his grammar was bad. Yet Elijah Muhammad sent him a reply. In the letter, he told Malcolm that black prisoners symbolized white society's crime of keeping blacks oppressed, deprived, and ignorant. Since black people were unable to get decent jobs, they turned to crime. He asked Malcolm to have courage and he enclosed a $5 bill in the letter.

Malcolm's sister and brothers tell him to face the East and pray on his knees. He recalls how difficult and embarrassing it was when he tried to do so initially. From then on, he began living like a hermit in the prison. As his feelings and thoughts changed, he began feeling strongly about the way blacks were treated in society. Since he is unable to express his anger verbally, he starts writing letters to all the people he knew during his hustling days. In the letter, he wrote about all he knew about Allah, Islam, and Mr. Elijah Muhammad. He never got a single reply to his letters. For the average hustlers were not educated enough to read or write. Looking back at that phase of his life Malcolm feels that even he wouldn't have replied to a letter which said something as wild as 'the white man is the devil.'

Besides his friends, Malcolm also wrote letters to the Mayor of Boston, the Governor of Massachusetts, and the President, Harry Truman.

It was due to the letters that Malcolm felt the need to re-educate himself in English. For he was not only inarticulate, even his language was not appropriate. This is because, all that he had spoken in Harlem was slang. And slang could not be written in a letter. Also every book that he read in the prison library had some words or sentences which he could not understand. So in an attempt to increase his vocabulary and improve his grammar, he got a dictionary, and learned the words page by page. Gradually, as his vocabulary broadened, he could make sense of the books he read. The library consisted of several books on history and religion. History had been one of Malcolm's favorite subjects in school. In books like: Gregor Mendel's 'findings in Genetics', he found a basis to the teachings of the Nation. That the original or first man on Earth was black. Fredrick Olmstead's book on the horrors suffered by African slaves, while they were shipped to the U.S. was among the numerous books Malcolm read in the prison. Malcolm also read 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' and some pamphlets about the abolitionist anti-slavery society of New England. He recalls reading about the slave preacher Nat Turner who did not preach about 'non-violence', but gathered followers by killing wicked plantation owners and freeing the slaves. The other books he read while in prison were: Will Durant's 'The Story of Oriental Civilization' and Mahatma Gandhi's accounts of the struggle to fight the British in India, The Boxer Rebellion in China etc.


During this period, Malcolm receives the news of his brother Reginald's suspension from the Nation. The suspension hurt Malcolm and he writes a letter to Elijah Muhammad defending his brother. The same night, he gets a vision or a dream of the presence of a man (of Asian origin) sitting by his bed. The figure disappears in the morning. Malcolm receives a letter from Elijah Muhammad. In the letter the leader tells Malcolm that if he (Malcolm) had believed in the truth and now doubted it, he did not believe in truth in the first place. It is his own weakness (his blind love for Reginald) that is making him doubt the truth. The letter makes Malcolm think and change his mind. He realizes that his brother was at fault and had been rightly punished for it. Malcolm's faith in the Nation is renewed.

Meanwhile, Reginald had become totally insane due to the suspension. Then Malcolm believed that it was Allah's way of punishing Reginald for his sins. However, much later (when he is suspended from the organization), he realizes that his brother had lost his senses because he was hurt. After the suspension, his own family members refused to support him. Reginalds mental health made his family members admit him to an asylum.

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