I Am Malala

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Fame, Power, and the Importance of Role Models Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Women’s Rights Theme Icon
The Power of Education Theme Icon
Islam and Its Interpretations Theme Icon
Goodness Theme Icon
Fame, Power, and the Importance of Role Models Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in I Am Malala, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Fame, Power, and the Importance of Role Models Theme Icon

Malala is an icon, renowned for her support for education and women’s rights. As a result, one of the most prominent themes in I Am Malala is the theme of fame itself: how heroes and role models, known by millions of people they’ve never met, can contribute to change or distract from it.

From a young age, Malala is surrounded by good role models. Her paternal grandfather, Rohul Amin, is a famously brilliant speaker and rhetorician, capable of bringing any audience to cheers. Her father, Ziauddin, is an even more impressive man: a great speaker and journalist, as well as the founder of a large chain of schools that offer cheap, comprehensive education to thousands of boys and girls. When Malala begins to take steps to fight for education and women’s rights as a young girl, she does so anonymously: she’s still in the shadow of her role models, especially her father. At the age of 11, she writes a series of diary entries for the BBC, using a pseudonym to protect herself from harassment from the Taliban, the group she criticizes in her diary.

As Malala grows up and accumulates an increasingly impressive resume of fighting for political causes, she inevitably begins to rise to prominence, with somewhat mixed results. Humanitarian organizations give her lavish awards, often for many thousands of dollars, singling her out for her bravery and integrity. However, Malala’s first efforts at “being famous” are clumsy and uneven, as she herself acknowledges. She complains that traveling to accept lots of awards is actually counterproductive, because it distracts her from writing articles and making radio broadcasts in support of the causes she’s supposed to be fighting for. Fame can also be misleading: by accepting an award for her humanitarian work, Malala gives the impression that she, and she alone, is responsible for changing the status quo in Pakistan. Malala readily admits that this is nonsense: she’s been helped along by dozens of other people, including her father and her teachers.

Although Malala recognizes that fame has some disadvantages, she ultimately embraces her global fame because it gives her a platform from which she can continue her political projects. In a sense, the Taliban attack that nearly claims Malala’s life forces her to be famous. A Taliban soldier climbs onboard Malala’s bus and asks, “Who is Malala?” When it becomes obvious who Malala is, the soldier shoots her. This incident makes Malala even more famous than she was before. She becomes a martyr, wounded for bravely going to school. In the aftermath of her shooting, Malala proves that she has learned some valuable lessons about how to be a role model for other people. Instead of using I Am Malala to trumpet her own brilliance, Malala humbly admits that she owes her success to many other people: the surgeons who saved her life, her father, the journalists who published her work, etc. Nor does Malala let her fame distract her from her political goals. On the contrary, her fame becomes a part of her political project, as she realizes that she can use it to increase awareness of the situation of women in Pakistan.

In the end, Malala recognizes that being a role model for millions of people can be challenging, and sometimes counterproductive. Yet she also realizes that this level of fame can be a powerful political weapon, one that she’d be foolish not to use to her advantage. Thus, for the good of her cause, she “chooses” to be famous, a choice that’s boldly apparent in the title of her book: I Am Malala.

Fame, Power, and the Importance of Role Models ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Fame, Power, and the Importance of Role Models appears in each chapter of I Am Malala. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Fame, Power, and the Importance of Role Models Quotes in I Am Malala

Below you will find the important quotes in I Am Malala related to the theme of Fame, Power, and the Importance of Role Models.
Prologue Quotes

The man was wearing a peaked cap and had a handkerchief over his nose and mouth as if he had the flu. He looked like a college student. Then he swung himself onto the tailboard at the back and leaned in right over us.
“Who is Malala?” he demanded.
No one said anything, but several of the girls looked at me. I was the only girl with my face not covered.

Related Characters: Malala Yousafzai (speaker), Ataullah Khan
Related Symbols: Burqa
Page Number: 9
Explanation and Analysis:

In the prologue to her memoir, Malala paints a startling picture of the day she was shot by a Taliban assassin. The man stops Malala's school bus and marches inside, asking for Malala. Although Malala says nothing at all, it's obvious enough who she is: she's literally the only girl on the bus not wearing the traditional burqa (or veil).

The absence of a burqa on Malala's face, you could say, is her undoing: because she wears no burqa, the Taliban soldier shoots her and sends her to the hospital. But in a broader sense, Malala's choice to discard the burqa (under her country's Taliban rule) demonstrates her bravery and determination. The burqa is a traditional symbol of Islamic faith and feminine domesticity: to wear a burqa is to be an obedient, faithful woman. (Of course, this isn't always the case, and for many women the burqa can represent strength, religious faith, and individuality.) Even in her appearance, Malala is saying that she doesn't accept that women must be second-class citizens--they should be equal to men, and have the same freedom of speech and expression.

In all, Malala takes on the qualities of a martyr in this scene. She stands quietly in opposition to misogyny in Pakistan, and she's punished by Taliban soldiers for her bravery and commitment to equality.


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Chapter 2 Quotes

Under Zia’s regime life for women in Pakistan became much more restricted. Jinnah said, “No struggle can succeed without women participating side by side with men. There are two powers in the world; one is the sword and the other is the pen. There is a third power stronger than both, that of women.”

Related Characters: Malala Yousafzai (speaker), Mohammed Ali Jinnah (speaker), General Zia ul-Haq
Page Number: 30-31
Explanation and Analysis:

Malala gives a brief account of Pakistani history since World War Two. In the middle of the 20th century, Pakistan was controlled by Muhammed Ali Jinnah, an educated, popular leader who was notable in that he supported equal rights for women. As Malala explains, Jinnah wanted women to enjoy the same rights and opportunities as men--he wanted them to be able to vote, work the same jobs as men, enjoy the same rights in court, etc.

Following Jinnah's death, however, Pakistan fell under the control of a military dictator, General Zia. Zia reversed many of Pakistan's feminist leanings--where Jinnah wanted equality, Zia wanted to restore the traditional Pakistani arrangement, whereby women largely stayed in the home and didn't hold jobs or appear in court.

In giving such an account of Pakistan's history, Malala aims to show that her country, in spite of some sexist aspects of its history and culture, isn't unprecedentedly sexist. Malala shows that Jinnah--a hugely popular, charismatic leader--was a feminist, too. By paralleling her beliefs with Jinnah, she makes her platform seem more acceptable to a Pakistani audience, while also dispelling some Western prejudices about Pakistan (i.e., that it's "barbaric" to women).

Chapter 16 Quotes

It seemed like everyone knew I had written the BBC diary. Some thought my father had done it for me but Madam Maryam, our principal, told them, “No. Malala is not just a good speaker but also a good writer.”

Related Characters: Malala Yousafzai (speaker), Madam Maryam (speaker), Ziauddin Yousafzai
Page Number: 193
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, we see Malala beginning to take on the role of a spokesperson--a well-known, even famous, figure, whose job is to advocate for her point of view to an audience of millions. Malala, encouraged by her father's friend at the BBC, writes a diary in which she describes what it's like to be a young woman in Pakistan. Although Malala doesn't sign her name to the diaries, everyone guesses that she wrote them, based on the experiences she documents. Some people even believe that Malala's father wrote the diaries--notably, Malala herself doesn't insist that she wrote them; her principal does so instead.

At this point in the memoir, Malala is a little reluctant being the center of attention. She doesn't sign her name to the diaries, and when people guess that she wrote them, she doesn't seem to acknowledge that she's the author. Malala is dealing with big, international issues, but she's also learning how to be famous--a major responsibility for anyone, let alone a teenager.

Chapter 19 Quotes

“Go and ask the manager of the White Palace Hotel and he will tell you what these girls did…”
He put down the paper. “It has no signature. Anonymous.”

Related Characters: Ziauddin Yousafzai (speaker)
Page Number: 229
Explanation and Analysis:

Malala begins to become a more public figure—she writes editorials in her own name instead of using a pseudonym, and appears across the Middle East to speak out in favor of women’s rights and the right to education. At the same time, Malala begins to attract widespread criticism for her supposed heresy—the more public she becomes, the more hated she becomes, too. In this quotation, an anonymous critic implies that Malala and the women who follow her are somehow sinful, and therefore their views are discredited. Without ever explaining what, exactly, Malala “did,” he creates the impression that she had sex or betrayed her Islamic faith. As Malala makes clear, the anonymous critic is just grasping at straws—he makes suggestions because he knows perfectly well that Malala has done nothing wrong. (And yet it's these vague suspicions that are most effective in attempting to discredit Malala, rather than direct accusations that could be easily refuted.)

The passage draws a clear contrast between Malala’s brave, lucid speeches on behalf of her cause and the anonymous critic’s vague, cowardly attacks on her character. Malala’s enemies are cowards, not even brave enough to admit their own names—their anonymity is a sign that Malala is beginning to gain the upper hand, while her opponents are beginning to cower and hide from public view.

Chapter 24 Quotes

We humans don’t realize how great God is. He has given us an extraordinary brain and a sensitive loving heart. He has blessed us with two lips to talk and express our feelings, two eyes which see a world of colors and beauty, two feet which walk on the road of life, two hands to work for us, a nose which smells the beauty of fragrance, and two ears to hear the words of love.

Related Characters: Malala Yousafzai (speaker)
Page Number: 300-301
Explanation and Analysis:

Throughout her memoir, Malala makes it clear that she’s not just an advocate for women’s rights: she’s a pious, practicing Muslim, albeit one who worships Allah in her own way. In this quotation, Malala offers one of her most eloquent expressions of her faith. In spite of practices which might seem anti-Muslim to many (believing in education for women, not wearing the veil, distrusting mullahs, etc.), Malala is absolutely a follower of Islam. However, her belief in certain aspects of the faith, such as its pacifism and emphasis on patience, lead her to oppose practices advocated by some fundamentalist Muslims, such as jihad and the repression of women.

It’s interesting to note that Malala refers to God as "God" (the more typical name for the Jewish/Christian/Muslim deity among Western religious people), not Allah (the more typical Muslim term for the same deity). In this book, Malala is trying to appeal to a Western audience more than an Islamic audience: she lives in a Western country, won the Nobel Peace Prize (given out by a Swedish panel), and speaks in countries throughout the Western world. In other words, Malala refers to “God,” not “Allah” because, as an ambassador for her country, she wants Western audiences to find commonalities between faiths—and in the simple, beautiful wisdom of this passage, she urges readers to find commonalities between all humans.

I was a good girl. In my heart I had only the desire to help people. It wasn’t about the awards or the money. I always prayed to God, “I want to help people and please help me do that.”

Related Characters: Malala Yousafzai (speaker)
Page Number: 301
Explanation and Analysis:

Malala concludes her memoir with a simple, straightforward evocation of her faith and passion. As a worldwide celebrity, Malala is invited onto talk shows, gets a book deal, etc. There are many who accuse Malala of "selling out"--appearing on television because of her own vanity, nothing more. But Malala insists that the opposite is true: she appears on the global stage because she wants to attract attention to women's rights and other political causes.

Malala's quotation illustrates some of the challenges of celebrity. Malala first agrees to become a public figure because she believes her appearance will aid the causes she believes in. Malala's challenge is to never allow herself to become "bigger" than her cause: i.e., to argue for what she believes in, not talk about her personal life for its own sake.

Of course, there's a fine line between being a political advocate and being a celebrity, and Malala faces an enormous amount of pressure as a global figure: if she makes any mistake in her private life, she'll attract attention away from the issues. Her only course of action is to be perfect: honest, virtuous, etc. By writing a memoir, Malala's goal is to build awareness of human rights abuses in her native country, using her own life as a "teaching tool."