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A Study of the Life of Malcolm X in the Works of Alex Haley

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Saving Grace

Author and journalist, Alex Haley, in his excerpt from “ The Autobiography of Malcolm X”, exhibits the life of how Malcolm became literate, along with what he learned due to the aftermath of learning to read and write. Haley’s purpose is to not only present how Malcolm became who he was through reading but to also present how Malcolm has his philosophies in which he want to convince others to believe in- one being that whites were evil human beings. Through his writing, he adopts a serious tone, followed by an aggressive one, in order to stimulate his reader’s feelings into making them believe in his philosophies, found in his general audience. Haley makes great use of the rhetoric strategies of ethos, pathos, and logos, to establish Malcolm’s credibility as a character, and to additionally persuade his audience to acknowledge Malcolm’s philosophies through emotional and logical methods.

Written in a serious tone, Haley opens up the autobiography of Malcolm X by establishing that Malcolm is a man who is credible. Malcolm states that while “in the street, I had been the most articulate hustler out there – I had commanded the attention of when I said something. But now trying to write simple English, I not only wasn’t articulate, I wasn’t even functional” (273). Through describing himself as an articulate hustler, the audience starts to understand that Malcolm is able to speak fluently, but when it comes to reading and writing, he is far from so. By stating that he wasn’t literate early in his lifetime, he comes off as a normal human being. We, as the audience, are able relate to how everyone starts off illiterate. “If I was not reading in the library, I was reading on my bunk. You couldn’t have gotten me out of those books with a wedge” (275). By claiming how dedicated he is to his reading, he creates a connection between himself and books, as well as himself to the reader. His understanding of himself and faithfulness to books creates a kind of respect the reader has to give to Malcolm, as they too are readers reading a text. Haley’s strategy of ethos emphasizes the beginning of Malcolm’s addiction-like quality to reading. It’s an important factor, possibly the biggest one, showing how Malcolm became the man he was. In addition, Haley later goes on to describe all the texts Malcolm has read in order to demonstrate his knowledge of a variety of material.

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Haley shifts to a more passively-aggressive tone towards the middle of the text. He emphasizes about the horrors of slavery by describing tragic details such as how black slave women were “tied up and flogged with whips” and how black mothers watched “their babies being dragged off, never to be seen from their mothers again” (278). The details use the rhetoric strategy of pathos to appeal to the audience’s bond with their family, especially with their mother and/or children. Through detailed descriptions, Haley creates a statement that makes his readers feel sympathetic towards those of the past, as well as strengthening Malcolm’s own philosophies about the evil white dominance that occurred.

Malcolm moves to using facts to further support his claim that white men are “devils”. He states that “over million 115 million African blacks were murdered or enslaved during the slave trade” (279) and that the whites, “through promises, trickery, and manipulations, controlled much of India through Great Britain’s East India Company” (279). The facts make the audience think about the cruelty of mankind, specifically that of the white man. With facts, his writing is brought to life by making a point that can be discussed about, but can’t be argued against. These points can be connected with the past as it’s all a part of history- and history cannot be disapproved without proof.

As Haley moves closer to the near end of the middle component of the text, he further demonstrates Malcolm’s credibility as a character by enumerating through important titles of readings he has done. Books give information, and information can be turned into knowledge once one understands the information that is given to them, but only through reading first- which is what Malcolm exactly did. Haley displays the variety of topics Malcolm has read about and has learned from to make him be seen more of a man who is more intelligent and educated than the reader is, specifically identified in areas of the text representing history. These accumulation of texts are, but not limited to, Souls of Black Folks by W.E.B. Du Bois, which taught him about black people’s history before they came to the United States, J.A. Rogers’ Sex and Race, which taught him about race mixing before Christ’s time, Egyptian Pharaohs, Ethiopia, and earth’s oldest black civilizations, and Findings in Genetics by Gregor Mendel where he had learned what “genetics” were.

With a more informal tone, Haley closes out Malcolm’s autobiography by further verifying the importance of Malcolm X’s figure. He shows that he’s a prominent character in his time period and that his views are of importance by stating that “not long ago”, an English reporter had telephoned him from London asking him questions. No reporter would waste their time interviewing someone of little to no importance. Malcolm also declares, while on a plane trip across the Atlantic, that he had spoke in London, which concludes he’s a significant speaker in his time. Furthermore he supports the rights of every oppressed minority, proof by when he was studying a document on how the United nations proposed “to insure human rights of the oppressed minorities of the world” (281). Through the rhetoric strategy of ethos. Haley makes it so that Malcolm is a critical individual as he is an influential one.

In an excerpt from “The Autobiography of Malcolm X”, Haley makes great use of the rhetoric strategies of ethos, pathos, and logos, to establish Malcolm’s credibility as a character, and to additionally persuade his audience to acknowledge Malcolm’s philosophies through emotional and logical methods. The text processes how Malcolm went from illiterate to literate with hard work and determination. Additionally, it identifies the philosophies that Malcolm X had during the time he was live, which, for example, was how the white man took advantage of minorities. As distinguished in the text, “Every time I catch a plane, I have with me a book that I want to read- and that’s a lot of books these days. If I weren’t out here every day battling with the white man, I could spend the rest of my life reading” (287), not only was reading an important factor in who he became, but that he has to spent every day battling with the “white man” as they are evil beings. For a person who was illiterate, teaching himself to read and write was the saving grace he needed in his life that schools couldn’t provide, but prison.

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