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The Autobiography of Malcolm X | Study Guide

Malcolm X and Alex Haley

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The Autobiography of Malcolm X | Quotes


The Americas were discovered in 1492, and the first Christian settlements established by the Spanish the following year.

Malcolm X, Chapter 2

Las Casas begins his account by providing a brief overview of the history of European involvement in the what they referred to as the New World, the Americas, or the Indies. (In Spanish, Las Casas uses the term las Indias. Translators use a variety of terms, often choosing "the Americas" to avoid confusion with the modern notion of the West Indies, the islands of the Caribbean). This period of European conquest started with the arrival of Columbus (who was searching for a new route to Asia) in the Caribbean in 1492. The Spanish, who had hoped to gain wealth from Asian spices, turned to building up their wealth and power another way—by claiming land, gold, and other resources that the Americas held.


The large and fertile island of Hispaniola ... boasts six hundred leagues of coastline and is surrounded by a great many other large islands ... with as high a native population as anywhere on earth.

Mr. Ostrowski, Chapter 2

Las Casas stresses that Caribbean and the other regions he discusses were well populated when the Spanish first arrived. By the time Las Casas wrote his account, nearly 50 years after that initial influx of colonizers, the indigenous populations had been drastically reduced. In some areas the indigenous people had been completely eliminated.


God made all the peoples of this area, many and varied as they are, as open and as innocent as can be imagined. The simplest people in the world ... they are without malice or guile.

Malcolm X, Chapter 5

Las Casas stresses the idea that the indigenous peoples were created by God, noting that there are many peoples in the region, not a monolithic group. This pushes back against an argument made by some colonizers that the native people are soulless and essentially subhuman. Las Casas presents a portrait of people who are naturally good. His depiction can be read as patronizing—he sees the indigenous people as childlike. This view later supported the 18th-century idea of "the noble savage." Las Casas's intention, however, seems to be to portray the indigenous people in a positive light.


It was upon these gentle lambs ... that ... the Spanish fell like ravening wolves upon the fold, or like tigers and savage lions who have not eaten meat for days.

Malcolm X, Chapter 5

Las Casas compares the Spanish assault on the native population to starving wild animals devouring their prey. He notes that the Spanish began their attacks "from the very first day they clapped eyes upon them." Throughout his account, Las Casas stresses the astounding brutality of the Spanish colonizers.


The island of Cuba ... is now to all intents and purposes uninhabited ... Puerto Rico and Jamaica, have been similarly devastated. Not a living soul remains today on ... the Bahamas.

Malcolm X, Chapter 5

Las Casas's account catalogs the destruction of the native populations of the Caribbean, Mexico, Central America, South America, and Florida. The Spanish colonizers decimated flourishing populations through warfare, slavery, and the spread of disease.


The reason the Christians have murdered on such a vast scale ... is purely and simply greed. They have set out to line their pockets with gold.

Malcolm X, Chapter 9

Throughout his text, Las Casas stresses the greed of the Spanish colonizers. He sometimes uses the term "Christians" to refer to the Spanish. This is a term the colonizers used to identify themselves. However, Las Casas frequently suggests that they are not true Christians.


[They] count it as nothing to drench the Americas in human blood and to dispossess the people who are the natural masters and dwellers in those vast and marvelous kingdoms.

Malcolm X, Chapter 9

Las Casas castigates the Spanish conquerors for their cruelty and violence. He contrasts Spanish brutality with the humanity of their victims. He also stresses the enormous geographic area affected by the conquest.


It was then that the locals began to think up ways of driving the Europeans out of their lands and to take up arms against them.

Malcolm X, Chapter 9

Las Casas writes that the indigenous peoples welcomed the Spanish when they first arrived. In Hispaniola, only after the Spanish attack them and steal their food, do the native people, the Taino, begin to resist. At first, they hide food stores and send women and children away to safety. When the Spanish retaliate brutally, including through rape, the Taino begin to fight back.


They slaughtered anyone and everyone in their path ... erecting especially wide gibbets on which they could ... burn [victims] alive thirteen at a time, in honor of our Savior and the twelve Apostles.

Malcolm X, Chapter 10

Las Casas emphasizes the unchristian behavior of the colonizers, who in theory are charged with spreading Christianity and the reach of the Catholic Church. He frequently suggests that the colonizers are an appalling representation of Christianity.


While [rules] governing the treatment of the native peoples ... maintain that conversion and the saving of souls has first priority, this is belied by what has actually been happening on the ground.

Malcolm X, Chapter 12

Las Casas wrote his account to persuade the Spanish king to intervene. The colonizers were given encomiendas, grants that declared they had authority over a certain number of indigenous people. In theory, the holder of an encomienda had a responsibility to spread Christianity and care for the souls of the people he ruled. More broadly, European conquest was often cast as a benevolent project of bringing lost souls to salvation. Las Casas believed in this project but wanted to expose the more brutal and cynical reality.


Once he was tied to the stake, a Franciscan friar ... a saintly man, told him as much as he could ... about the Lord and about our Christian faith.

Malcolm X, Chapter 12

In this scene, the Taino leader Hatuey is about to be executed. Las Casas makes a clear distinction between the brutal Spanish colonizers and the monks who are also present in the region. In Las Casas's view, the monks do worthwhile and humane work. However, they are powerless to stop the colonizers' violence.


The lord Hatuey [retorted that] he chose to go to Hell to ensure that he would never again have to clap eyes on those cruel brutes.

Malcolm X, Chapter 15

This anecdote illustrates one of Las Casas's main points: that the colonizers are damaging, rather than spreading, Christianity. It is also an example of how Las Casas includes indigenous leaders in his history. By contrast, Las Casas almost never mentions Spanish conquistadors by name.


In the wake of the barbarity and carnage ... there arrived yet another butcher who was to be responsible for outrage upon outrage.

Malcolm X, Chapter 16

In his account, Las Casas does not identify the Spanish leaders who spearhead the violence he decries. This might reflect a desire to avoid conflict or a refusal to add to their fame and glory. He refers to them with critical words: they are tyrants, butchers, villains, and brutes.


As soon as these hellhounds had left ... [monks went] to calm the native population, preach to them and bring to the love of Christ those who had survived the Hell [of] Spanish tyranny.

Malcolm X, Chapter 16

Las Casas provides several accounts of monks succeeding in converting indigenous peoples despite the violence of the Spanish. The monks themselves are Spanish, but Las Casas presents them as a separate group, distinct from the colonizers. His anecdotes seek to show that at least some indigenous peoples also made this distinction.


They finally agreed to let [the monks] come among them. ... They also did something previously unheard of in the New World. ... [They ] voluntarily subjected themselves to the Spanish Crown.

Malcolm X, Chapter 17

Las Casas provides arguments intended to show the Spanish king that the colonizers hurt the cause of spreading Christianity and expanding the Spanish empire. The work of the monks, on the other hand, is depicted as achieving these aims.

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