The Autobiography of Malcolm X | Study Guide

Malcolm X and Alex Haley

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The Autobiography of Malcolm X | Summary

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The Autobiography of Malcolm X follows Malcolm X from his childhood in Michigan to the end of his life in Harlem, where he was assassinated at age 39 while addressing his Organization of Afro-American Unity group. Malcolm X is born in Nebraska in 1925 as Malcolm Little. His family feels threatened by the Ku Klux Klan and moves to Lansing, Michigan. His father dies under mysterious circumstances when Malcolm is six years old. As he grows into adolescence his impoverished family disintegrates. He and most of his siblings go to foster homes; his mother is committed to a mental institution. At age 16 Malcolm moves to Boston to live with his half-sister Ella Little.

In Boston and later in Harlem Malcolm becomes what he calls a hustler. He goes by the name Detroit Red and he sells marijuana, steers customers to prostitutes, and robs houses. He also uses drugs heavily. While he is imprisoned for burglary, he converts to the Nation of Islam, an American variant of Islam that tries to instill pride in black people by claiming that white people are devils. After prison Malcolm excels as a minister in the Nation of Islam. He marries a fellow believer, Sister Betty. Later, he discovers that the sect's leader, Elijah Muhammad, has fathered children out of wedlock, an act forbidden by the Nation of Islam's moral code. Elijah Muhammad is maneuvering Malcolm out of the sect when Malcolm leaves of his own accord.

Malcolm then goes on a pilgrimage to Mecca, where he learns about a more orthodox Islam; he also learns many Nation of Islam teachings are not accepted by other Muslims. He has a transformative experience when he sees Muslims of all complexions and nationalities praying together. He returns to the United States still committed to black nationalism but with strong new ideals of brotherhood. This is the end of the chapters Malcolm co-authored with Alex Haley, but Haley adds an epilogue explaining their collaboration and recounting the end of Malcolm's life. Not long after Malcolm's return to the United States he is assassinated at a speaking engagement in Harlem, and he is mourned by many.

The Autobiography of Malcolm X Plot Diagram

Falling ActionRising ActionResolutionClimax123456789101112Introduction


1 The Little family's house is burned down.

Rising Action

2 Malcolm's father dies under mysterious circumstances.

3 Malcolm moves to Boston.

4 Malcolm gets a job as a shoeshine at the Roseland Ballroom.

5 Malcolm moves to Harlem and continues hustling.

6 Malcolm runs afoul of West Indian Archie.

7 Malcolm is sentenced to eight to ten years in prison.

8 Violently anti-Christian, Malcolm is given the name Satan.


9 In prison Malcolm converts to the Nation of Islam.

Falling Action

10 Malcolm is expelled from the Nation of Islam.

11 Malcolm makes a pilgrimage to Mecca.


12 Malcolm is assassinated while giving a speech in Harlem.

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