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The Autobiography of Malcolm X: Literary Devices That Convey the Message of Injustices

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Certain pivotal events occur that permanently transform a person’s perspective in life. These occurrences foster greatness and harbor the potential to cause continual change within people. Malcolm X, a renowned civil rights activist, experienced a momentous episode in his life which ignited his passion to revolt against society’s prejudice. As an individual who resorted to violent measures to achieve equality for African Americans, Malcolm X used this life-altering event as justification for his bitterness toward bigoted people. Through his inscription of The Autobiography of Malcolm X, he strived to relate the discrimination that a childhood teacher inflicted upon him and to alert the general public to the prominence of injustice in the workplace, where race played a dominant role in determining the distribution of jobs. Through the usage of rhetorical devices such as tone, details, and diction, Malcolm X relayed his potent message about the injustice which divided races.

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Ironically, Malcolm X utilized a detached tone to recount a circumstance which affected him profoundly. Throughout his personal narrative, he depicted the events objectively, taking precautions to conceal his emotion and to hide his bias. In a tone devoid of boastfulness, Malcolm X recalled that, “The topmost scholastic standing kept shifting between me, a girl named Audrey Slaugh, and a boy named Jimmy Cotton.” Malcolm X progressed to neutrally describe his teacher, Mr. Ostrowski, the man who had engendered his bitterness toward society, as a “tall, rather reddish white man,” who had a thick mustache. Furthermore, prior to disclosing Mr. Ostrowski’s opinion that black people lack the capability to become lawyers, Malcolm X detachedly commented that his teacher “meant well in what he happened to advise me that day.” Like the serenity before a tempest, Malcolm X maintained his composure through his monotonous tone and obscured the bitterness that he was prepared to unleash.

Contradictory to his tone, Malcolm X’s selection of detail helped to portray his attitude toward this momentous event in a more sardonic manner. When Malcolm X stated his intention of becoming a lawyer, Mr. Ostrowski notified him that it was an unrealistic goal, saying, “You need to think of something you can be.” This discrimination, based solely on skin color, unnerved Malcolm X. It demonstrated that he had limitless obstacles to overcome, especially since the teacher had encouraged others of white skin tone who “wanted to strike out in their own to try something new.” Toward the end of the excerpt, Malcolm X’s irritation became evident as he scathingly implied the presence of injustice by stating that because of his race, “apparently I was still not intelligent enough, in their eyes to become whatever I wanted to be.” Through his observations, Malcolm X furtively distinguished himself from white people in order to depict society’s belief, prior to 1965, of the schism between blacks and whites, and to reveal his relief that he could never be classified as a white and bigoted individual.

In addition to detail, Malcolm X ‘s clever usage of diction, and the fine points that he managed to convey through his word choice, provided evidence of the hypocrisy found during the 1900s. In describing his relationship with Mr. Ostrowski, Malcolm X refrained from saying that his instructor liked him, opting instead to say that his instructor “made it seem like he liked me.” Although people may have been more tolerant and civil towards African Americans during this era compared with the previous century, black people were generally disrespected and scorned. Malcolm X showed that he deplored the ethics of whites when he justified his teacher’s prejudice by simply saying that it was “just in his nature as an American white man,” implying that white people, especially Americans, were inherently bigoted. Malcolm X’s juxtaposition of white and black people aided his intent to clarify the large social and economic gap that existed between these two particular races and to portray his bitterness over this issue. Although he possessed more intelligence than a vast majority of his white classmates, he said that the teacher “could only see for me the kind of future that white people see for black people.”

This life-altering instance from Malcolm X’s life beckoned him to a vocation as a civil rights activist, where he gained the opportunity to advocate for the principles he believed in. Through his usage of literary elements, he intended to portray the event which evoked his cogent opinions against racism and to demonstrate the damaging realities of prejudice to his readers. The unraveling of this incident wrought unwarranted repercussions. For instance, Malcolm X’s vehemence guided him to establish the Black Panthers, a violent activist group which irreversibly transformed society. This change, which shocked the world, possessed an internal source. As Malcolm X concluded at the end of the passage, “It was then (after this discriminatory incident) that I began to change-inside.”

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