The great paradox behind Malcolm X’s self-transformation takes place during a time in his life in which he was at his most powerless. When Malcolm X was serving prison time for a string of robberies, he did not initially acclimate to the rest of prison life. He was called “Satan” by the other prisoners due to his denouncement of religion. This was until he was introduced to Elijah Muhammad, the prophet of the Nation of Islam, through letters, which caused him to completely reorient his life. He would then lead a life within the Black nationalist organization until he left and converted to Sunni Islam.
But, another way Malcolm reoriented his life was through learning from the dictionary and a phrasebook. In the Norfolk Prison Colony, he took it upon himself to take advantage of the prison library, by reading the dictionary and practicing his writing in a grammar book. He made sure to study every single word, from aardvark onwards, by writing down its definition and the ways it can be used on a clay tablet.
This would help to expand his vocabulary throughout his time as a public figure. It would also help him read more complicated books in the prison library, specifically within the topics of history and religion. This helped him to develop a comprehensive historiographic perspective about the African civilizations and the comprehensive history of the Transatlantic Slave Trade that was not taught in his school. Malcolm was able to stand out as a unique historical figure in that he was able to speak truth to power by exposing the narrow-minded views that were held by every American, such as the fact that Jesus was actually a brown man, not a white man.
- “The Autobiography of Malcolm X: As Told To Alex Haley.” 1st Trade Edition. Ballatine Books. February 1992.