Analysis—Chapters Twelve & Thirteen

Malcolm’s purchase of a wristwatch, suitcase, and eyeglasses upon leaving Massachusetts state prison symbolizes his newfound time-conscious efficiency, tireless drive, and mature vision. If Malcolm’s earlier peaceful surrender to the Boston detective marks the beginning of his prison conversion, then the purchase of these amenities marks the completion of this same conversion as well as the beginning of his career of religious and political authority. Whereas his initial surrender to the detectives is a passive act of submission, this purchase is an active act of self-possession. Malcolm’s statement that “without fully knowing it, I was preparing for what my life was about to become” shows his instinctive determination. In picking up the tools of his trade as soon as he is released from prison, Malcolm makes a symbolic commitment to a life of authority and responsibility with the Nation of Islam and beyond.

The wristwatch, suitcase, and eyeglasses each symbolize an important aspect of Malcolm’s career as a Muslim minister and political figure. The wristwatch represents his obsession with efficiently managing his busy daily schedule. He is committed to the people and events of his daily life, not distanced from them as Elijah Muhammad and other religious leaders are. The suitcase represents Malcolm’s commitment to a life of constant work and frequent travel in the name of spreading Islam. His travel allows him to interact with other blacks nationwide and other minorities worldwide, and such experiences help him develop a more mature perspective on the struggle against oppression. Malcolm’s eyeglasses represent his newfound clarity of vision on race in America. Though the glasses serve the practical purpose of correcting the vision problems Malcolm has developed from years of reading in prison, they also serve the symbolic purpose of correcting his understanding of the issues at hand. His statement that “in all my years in the streets, I’d been looking at the exploitation that for the first time I really saw and understood” shows that his time in prison has made him see the race problem clearly. With his commitment to his message, connection to his people, and understanding of the problems plaguing his people, Malcolm is prepared to launch himself into a new and productive life.

In Chapter 12, “Savior,” both Malcolm and Elijah Muhammad compare Malcolm’s faith in Islam to Job’s faith in God, each using the biblical parable to make a different point. As the story goes, Satan challenged God to test Job’s faith by making him suffer through various trials. While Elijah Muhammad uses the story to highlight Malcolm’s ability to resist the temptations of his former life once released from prison, Malcolm uses the story to draw attention to the trial of his faith that his difficult relationship with Elijah Muhammad creates. Though these comparisons serve different purposes, both point out Malcolm’s ability to stand behind his ideological convictions and carry on a prolonged struggle against difficult odds.

Malcolm’s discussion of his relationship with Elijah Muhammad reveals that he sees Elijah Muhammad more as a god than as a human. Elijah Muhammad’s assertion that Malcolm will remain a faithful Muslim out of prison reciprocates and intensifies Malcolm’s faith in Elijah Muhammad. Elijah Muhammad’s confidence inspires years of near-absolute devotion from Malcolm, and Malcolm describes having more faith in Elijah Muhammad than in any other man. Malcolm foreshadows how this great faith in Elijah actually proves the downfall of their relationship with his statement that “I know today that I did believe in him more firmly than he believed in himself.” This quote implies that Allah’s greatest trial for Malcolm is Elijah Muhammad himself. Although Elijah Muhammad inspires Malcolm to persist in the face of adversity, his own faltering in the face of adversity later becomes an obstacle in their relationship.