I Am Malala

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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.
Goodness Theme Icon

Since her rise to global fame in 2013, Malala Yousafzai has become almost universally renowned for her selfless devotion to helping the people of her country. She’s the youngest person ever to win the Nobel Peace Prize, the world’s most prestigious award for helping other people. There are even those who think of her as a “living saint”—incapable of doing any wrong. In light of Malala’s reputation as a highly, or even perfectly, moral young woman, it’s almost impossible to read her memoir without wondering where her goodness “comes from.” Are living saints born or made?

In I Am Malala, Malala doesn’t try to pretend that she’s a saint, yet she claims to maintain a standard of good behavior that almost any other human being would find unbearable. She includes plenty of anecdotes about bickering with her siblings and parents, getting in fights with her friends—in essence, the things all teenagers do. When she was a small child, she explains, she stole a toy from her friend Safina. Afterwards, Malala began to develop a bad habit of stealing from others. When her parents found out, Malala was so ashamed of herself that she resolved to never steal anything, or commit any sin, again. Malala claims to have honored her resolution: she still prays to Allah for forgiveness for the theft she committed as a child, and keeps up her good behavior at all times. The overall effect of these chapters is disorienting. Malala seems impossibly “good,” and yet it’s made clear that she wasn’t born this way. Instead, she chooses to be moral—a choice of which, she implies, we’re all capable of.

As I Am Malala proceeds, Malala’s virtue continues to seem both unattainable and perfectly commonsensical. All of her broadcasts and brave crusades against the Taliban, she explains, are motivated by her recognition of a simple fact: it is wrong to exploit women, and thus, no moral person could sit back while women are exploited. There’s nothing incredibly uncommon or new about Malala’s thinking on the subject of women’s rights. But her sense of obligation to help those who are helpless, and her bravery in pursuing that obligation, is extraordinary.

The more Malala tries to explain her goodness, the more inexplicable it becomes. She wants to fight for the right to education and equality, she claims, because these rights are universal. Yet recognizing the universality of human rights isn’t a guarantee that someone will fight for these rights. Particularly in a country like Pakistan, doing so takes bravery, intelligence, and drive, in addition to the obvious sense of right and wrong. This is clear even when one looks at Malala’s own family: Malala’s two siblings have been exposed to the same moral education as their sister, and yet they don’t fight for women’s freedom with anywhere near the same intensity that Malala does. In the end, I Am Malala is a somewhat frustrating book as well as an inspiring one. Although the title promises to “explain” Malala to us, her bravery, her integrity, her drive—and thus, her goodness—remain a mystery.

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Goodness Quotes in I Am Malala

Below you will find the important quotes in I Am Malala related to the theme of Goodness.
Chapter 5 Quotes

Though I felt bad, I was also relieved it was over. Since that day I have never lied or stolen. Not a single lie nor a single penny, not even those coins my father leaves around the house, which we’re allowed to buy snacks with.

Related Characters: Malala Yousafzai (speaker), Ziauddin Yousafzai
Page Number: 71-72
Explanation and Analysis:

In this section, Malala makes a claim that seems, on the surface, impossible. She insists that she's never told a lie, and never stolen anything--in short, never done anything wrong. She explains that she was inspired to be "good" after her parents caught her stealing a pair of earrings from a friend.

Malala's "crime" (committed when she was just a little girl) might seem inconsequential to most people. But Malala was so embarrassed and racked with guilt from her theft that she resolved to become a better person. In a fundamental way, then, Malala is "strange" in her moral righteousness. She finds it possible to maintain a standard of ethical behavior that almost anyone else on the planet would find impossible.


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Chapter 23 Quotes

The first two questions my pen wrote were, “Why have I no father?” and “My father has no money. Who will pay for all this?”

Related Characters: Malala Yousafzai (speaker), Ziauddin Yousafzai
Page Number: 277
Explanation and Analysis:

After Malala is attacked by the Taliban, she’s rushed to a series of hospitals. She’s even transported to London, where medical facilities are better. There, she remains in a coma for days. When she eventually wakes up, she first question she asks is about her family; the second is about payment for her treatment.

Even at her least conscious, Malala has a strong instinct to look out for other people, especially her family—hence her first question. She loves her father more than anyone, and can’t stand the idea of being separated from him by the Taliban’s attack. Malala is also a phenomenally responsible young woman; she hates the idea of placing a burden on anyone else, hence her second question. Malala again acts as a role model to readers: even at her lowest point, she embodies humility and decency, and wants others to aspire to do the same.

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."