The Autobiography of Malcolm X

The Autobiography of Malcolm X Chapter 12 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
In the spring of 1952, Malcolm is informed that he has been recommended for parole. Hilda and Wilfred insist that he come to Detroit to live with them, as he still has much to learn about Elijah Muhammad’s teachings. Wilfred secures Malcolm a job at the furniture store he manages, ticking Malcolm’s last box for release. In August, with a little cash and a cheap suit, he is released from prison.
While Malcolm’s trials in prison may be coming to a close, his siblings make it clear that his journey with the Nation of Islam is just beginning.
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After staying a night with Ella (who also believes he should go to Detroit, but does not share his religious beliefs), Malcolm goes out to buy three things: a pair of eyeglasses, a suitcase, and a watch. Malcolm has reflected many times that not only are these perhaps his only personal possessions, but they have been symbolic of his life since prison. His life has been dominated by constantly reading, keeping appointments, and traveling in service of the Nation of Islam.
After being released from prison, this is the only time Malcolm mentions buying anything, which stands in stark contrast to his colorful descriptions of buying zoot suits and getting conks as a younger man. These simple purchases reflect his new and more ascetic, un-materialistic life—and these will be the only three principle possessions he always has with him in the future.
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After arriving in Detroit by bus, Malcolm goes to work at the furniture store. But he is utterly ashamed at how overpriced all their goods are for such poor quality and how the advertising and financing schemes are directly intended to dupe and rob poor black people (as the store is in a black neighborhood). Furthermore, since the store is not owned by a black businessman, the profits are not going back into the local economy, but are instead being extracted to enrich others.
Malcolm’s years as a hustler inform his views of business. Even if it’s legal, he still considers it a “hustle” if it takes advantage of other people by selling them bad goods with deceptive financing schemes. And like the numbers racket in Harlem, the ones making the profit are not local businessmen, but white owners and bankers.
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Wilfred invites Malcolm to move in with him, an offer Malcolm gratefully accepts. Wilfred and his family teach Malcolm about how a Muslim family conducts itself daily, from the morning ablution (washing ritual) to the morning prayers and greetings to family members. Wilfred, as the head of the family, leads the rest of the family in their prayers facing towards Mecca as the sun is at the horizon. At the time, Malcolm said the prayers in English, but now he says them with his family in Arabic. Then, after a light breakfast, the family goes to work and school.
Malcolm tries to impress on the reader that being a Muslim is a full-time experience. The Muslim family’s day begins in prayer and then proceeds from that state of mind. Additionally, its patriarchal structure probably appeals to Malcolm, given some of his stated beliefs about women being weak and men being more suited to be leaders.
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Get the entire Malcolm X LitChart as a printable PDF.
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Malcolm goes to Temple with Wilfred’s family on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays, and he is amazed at the quiet, dignified conduct of the other Muslims in the Temple. Despite their Temple’s humble location across the street from a hog slaughterhouse, they carry themselves with pride and show love and respect to their fellow members.
Muslims are forbidden from eating pork. The Temple’s location across from a slaughterhouse thus emphasizes the hardships and indignities the community is willing to endure to celebrate their faith.
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At the front of the Temple’s worship space is a blackboard. On one side of the blackboard is painted the United States flag, a Cross, and a picture of a black man hanging, along with the words, “Slavery, Suffering, and Death.” On the other side is the Nation of Islam flag with its crescent moon and star, the words, “Islam: Freedom, Justice, Equality”, and then the longer phrase, “Which One Will Survive the War of Armageddon?”
In stark imagery and language, the temple describes the religious clash between white Christian society and African/Middle-Eastern Muslim society as it is seen by the Nation of Islam. Furthermore, the Nation’s ideology firmly connects violence against black men with white Christian America.
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Malcolm, rapt with attention at the sermon given by the minister, is also enflamed by the fact that there are empty seats. With so many black people suffering from poverty and without direction in Detroit as in Harlem, he feels they should be more proactive in their recruiting efforts. Wilfred and the Temple, meanwhile, advise that he be patient.
Malcolm has never been one for waiting around; he prefers to take action. In one way, this could be seen as a residue of his “predatory” lifestyle, which was always goal-focused.
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“With an eagerness never since duplicated,” Malcolm anxiously awaits their Temple’s caravan trip to Chicago, where they will go to hear Elijah Muhammad himself speak in Temple Number Two. Never again has Malcolm felt such warmth and excitement as he did in that small crowd waiting for Elijah. Then Elijah appears onstage, flanked by the Fruit of Islam (the Nation’s security and paramilitary force) - a small, fragile man in a dark suit, bowtie, and gold-embroidered fez.
The Nation of Islam’s small number of members makes the environment more intimate and family-like. And if this is indeed Malcolm’s new family, then Elijah Muhammad is the new patriarch, who appears like a father coming home to his waiting children.
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Elijah speaks to the crowd about his devotion to spreading the word of God to them, even throughout his own imprisonment for draft evasion. He speaks of how the black man in America has been brainwashed by the “devil white man,” who wishes to keep him oppressed, but through learning, hi will rise up. Then Elijah calls upon Malcolm by name, asking him to stand and telling the crowd of Malcolm’s daily letters and strength in prison. Elijah wonders if Malcolm will avoid his old life and stay faithful now that he is out of prison, and he predicts that he will.
Elijah has clearly been impressed by Malcolm’s devotion to his studies and to his letter-writing during his time in prison. By acknowledging him publicly, he both wishes to encourage him in his faith journey and to hold him up as an example to the others. Malcolm could not feel more touched if his own father were to return and praise him.
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Malcolm assures us that he has indeed been faithful to his faith ever since, and he was always faithful to Elijah Muhammad, even when a “crisis” arose between them. According to Malcolm, jealousy has driven the two men apart, but he assures us their split was not from a lack of loyalty or faith.
Several times throughout the book, Malcolm will attempt to convince the reader that he never lacked in faith or loyalty, looking forward to his break with Elijah and trying to defend himself against the many accusations that he was indeed disloyal or unfaithful.
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After the meeting, Mr. Muhammad invites Malcolm’s entire family to come to his house for dinner, and he is a very gracious host to them all. As they talk during dinner, Malcolm asks for Elijah’s advice on the recruitment of new members. When Elijah tells him to go for the youth and to recruit “thousands,” Malcolm resolves to do just that.
Malcolm has been unsatisfied with the more hands-off approach of the Detroit leaders, so he goes around their authority by directly asking for Elijah’s permission to pursue more aggressive recruiting.
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Malcolm, with Minister Lemuel Hassan’s blessing, immediately goes to work back in Detroit, “fishing” in the local bars, poolrooms, and on the street corners for new members, using his familiarity with lower class slang to pull people in. While he works hard, it is several months before the Temple’s numbers begin to grow significantly. Elijah continues to praise Malcolm’s good work, and Malcolm in turn “worships him.” Meanwhile, Malcolm is granted the “X” at the end of his name, symbolizing his original African name that he will never know and marking him as a member of the Nation of Islam.
The “X” last name of the Nation’s members signals an original African family name which they will never know, thanks to slavery’s destruction of families and heritage—but it also connects them to illiterate slaves, who would often sign their names with an X, and it further connects them with each other, as all the members of the Nation would then share one common family name: X.
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At his dinner table, Elijah begins to speak often about his need for enthusiastic young ministers to spread his word farther and faster than its current pace. Shortly thereafter, Malcolm’s Temple minister asks him to address the congregation, and then to give a lecture. Nervous and humble, Malcolm agrees hesitantly, mostly speaking on slavery and Christianity, the topics he knows well. Then, in the summer of 1953, he is named Assistant Minister.
Malcolm first draws his topics from his experiences in prison, when he would discuss slavery and his other historical readings with other inmates. His public speaking background comes from his time spent in the prison debate group. These trainings did in fact serve him well.
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Malcolm, after days spent “fishing” for converts with no success, would dream of what he would say in his next address. In his talks, he would talk about how black people had been made blind to the riches and control exercised by white people over them, and how they should be proud of their beautiful, black bodies and nappy hair, alluding to his own hatred of his white grandfather whose complexion was still visible in Malcolm’s fair skin. Like Malcolm’s grandfather, thousands of white slave owners had raped their female slaves, while their husbands and sons could do nothing to stop it. Thinking of this, Malcolm takes long walks at night, choked up with anger and sorrow.
The reader experiences a double vision of sadness and frustration in this scene. First, there is the horrific history of rape and mutilation described by Malcolm and perpetrated against black slaves. Then, there is the melancholic image of Malcolm treading through the streets, reflecting on this history and wanting to share his pain and his anger with other African Americans who may not even be aware of it.
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One day, at his new job at the Gar Wood factory (manufacturing garbage trucks), the F.B.I. comes in and ask Malcolm to come to their office. After asking why he hasn’t registered for the draft, he says he didn’t think ex-cons were supposed to register. They believe him, and tell him he must go register immediately. When he does, he marks the “conscientious objector” box, which gets him an audience before a review panel. After a fairly condescending interview, they tell him his case is pending, after which he hears nothing for seven years. Then he receives a Class 5-A draft card in the mail, “whatever that means.”
The Nation of Islam objects to its followers participating in wars that support white imperialism over other oppressed people of color. The most prominent case of a Muslim conscientious objector in the US is Muhammad Ali, who will object to participating in the Vietnam War after Malcolm X’s death.A Class 5-A designation means the individual in question is now too old to be drafted.
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Malcolm, overcome with enthusiasm and vigor, always loses his voice after addressing the Detroit Temple. He speaks passionately about why whites hate blacks out of guilt for their past crimes. Malcolm also changes jobs once again, now working for a Ford assembly line.
Malcolm’s efforts to preach the truth take everything out of him; he confronts the violence done to black bodies by giving his entire body and voice to the fight against oppression.
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Malcolm loves to travel to Chicago, where he hears Mr. Muhammad speak and stays at his house. There, he talks for hours with Elijah and his mother, Mother Marie. Then Elijah and Malcolm drive to visit the Muslim-owned stores in Chicago, which are supposed to act as examples of how the black community can help itself. Mr. Muhammad always shows the greatest humility, often sweeping the shop floors as they speak.
Malcolm and Elijah Muhammad clearly have a very intimate relationship. Malcolm looks up to Elijah like a father and Mother Marie like a grandmother figure. In their visits, Malcolm appears almost child-like, riding in the car with Elijah and listening to Mother Marie tell stories.
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Back at the house, Mother Marie tells Malcolm all about her son’s childhood. She once had a vision that Elijah would become a great man; and though he was quiet and not the oldest, he was the leader of all his siblings. While he had to quit school after the fourth grade to work, he would spend hours poring over the Bible, tears in his eyes for want of understanding. Furthermore, he showed an uncommonly high level of love for his race.
Like Malcolm’s mother, Mother Marie has a sort of sixth sense for the future of her children. However, unlike Malcolm’s family, which was decimated by tragedy, Elijah and his family now live comfortably as the leaders of a movement.
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Elijah Muhammad could never stand to be degraded or cursed at by his employers, and he told them as much—but his work was so good that he was usually put into a leadership role. After he married his wife, Sister Clara, he was cursed at by an employer, prompting him to move the family to Detroit. There, in 1931, he mets W. D. Fard, “a brother from the East” who began to hold small meetings where he would teach the Bible and the Quran.
Elijah’s sensitivity to being cursed at reflects a deep sense of self-worth and a discomfort with the racist standards of his time. Whereas white employers may simply take it as natural to curse at their black employees, he sees it as unacceptably degrading.
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W. D. Fard taught that God’s true name was Allah, his religion was Islam, and his followers Muslims. He taught that black people in America were a lost tribe Muslims whom he had been sent to redeem. In fact, as God’s children, black people were Gods themselves, and Mr. Fard was the Mahdi, the Savior the world had been waiting for. Fard then set up the first University of Islam in Detroit. Elijah Poole, renamed Elijah Muhammad, was named head minister over all the other ministers, causing great jealousy. In 1934, Fard and Elijah went to start the Temples in Chicago and Milwaukee, when Fard suddenly disappeared without a trace.
Fard is an extremely interesting character. He is technically the founder of the Nation and the Mahdi, or Savior (and his disappearance is still an unsolved mystery), yet after he disappeared Elijah Muhammad clearly took over the spotlight as the center of the Nation, while conveniently blaming the other ministers of being “jealous” of his chosen position.
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The other ministers then began to make attempts on Elijah’s life, forcing him to flee for Washington, D.C., where he founded Temple Four. With “hypocrites” still after him, Elijah went on the run for the next seven years, never staying long anywhere. Then, in 1942, he was arrested for draft dodging, and was released in 1946 after three and a half years.
Elijah’s history serves as an origin story of persecution. Like the Jews who wandered the desert for forty years and suffered many injustices, Elijah and his followers finally arrived at the “Promised Land.”
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Malcolm, looking back, reflects on how many times he gave speeches detailing this history without any kind of critical eye or skepticism. He accepted all that had been told to him point blank. That lack of independence will cause him a serious spiritual crisis, he says, when later he no longer believes in Elijah Muhammad’s integrity.
Many points in Elijah’s history could be debated—if attempts were really made on his life, or if Mr. Fard really appointed him head minister, or if Master Fard really could be a Divine figure—but Malcolm never critically considered these issues.
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