Malcolm X’s “Learning to Read” During Imprisonment Essay

January 13, 2021 by Essay Writer


To many people, prison is the place where freedom is lost and all hope abandoned. However, to some people, prison can be the turning point, where the individual comes to his moment of truth. There are a number of things about prison that may lead to an individual stumbling into a turning point. One of the things is the fact that the person will have too much time because unlike free people, an imprisoned person does not have appointments and deadlines to meet.

The other thing is that this person does not just have a lot of time, but he or she is also closely monitored. Prison will give the prisoner time and space to think and meditate on the most important issues of life and the philosophies of life. Once this person reaches a point where his inner being is seeking to answer the important questions of life, it will be time for the person to look for an alternative reality or to look for something to distract him from his predicament. This is the reason why it is said that the body can be imprisoned, but the mind cannot be imprisoned, at least not in a conventional physical prison.


A good example is Malcolm X, who after being incarcerated; he found the love for books and literature. When he realized that he could not read efficiently because his vocabulary was poor, he started mastering the vocabulary of the English language until he was very good at it. The work that Malcolm did in an attempt to master the vocabulary without the aid of a teacher, was amazing and incredible. After he had mastered enough vocabulary, he started reading books, usually the enlightening type. Reading made his vocabulary even better, and he had a better way to improve his vocabulary as time went on.

The mind of an imprisoned person will want to free itself in spite of the fact that it is tightly coupled to the body of the person. As a result, the inner person of an incarcerated individual will try to look for ways to escape from the imprisonment. This is the reason why most imprisoned people become very good in what they do. One person may decide to take a technical course such as masonry or carpentry, and will seem to have the right motivation to make this an area of expertise.

The motivation behind the reason why the person will want to excel in whatever he or she chooses may be different. Some will be doing that because they see it as a second chance to life, and that they cannot manage to waste it. However, for another person, the person may be motivated by the fact that he has been pushed to the philosophical points by the challenges that the prison life brings.

It is not by coincidence that many people who go to prison are those who in one way or the other, had certain aspects of their lives that were so colorful, that prison life will not be able to satisfy them. When such a person goes to prison, he will have to adjust his attitudes and feelings in order to help in compensating for this lack.

In the case of Malcolm X, he says in his article that it was the command that he used to have in the streets, which he now did not have, especially due to the fact that the only channel of communication for him in prison was writing. Though well informed, he was unable to write well, and he couldn’t write in slang. Malcolm (1) says, “How would I sound writing in slang, the way 1 would say it, something such as, “Look, daddy, let me pull your coat about a cat, Elijah Muhammad—””


The other factor that will change the way a prisoner will see the world and react to it is the way the prisoner will regard the cause of the imprisonment. Some will accept the imprisonment and accept that it was their fault. However, if the prisoner regards the imprisonment as harassment and that he is innocent; he will have a different perspective. Malcolm X did not just have a great desire to read and enlighten his mind, but he did it because he was seeking to understand the history of the black people and the history of all races.

He was raged and concerned about the unfairness of the white people towards the rest of the world races, and this led him to studying any material he could find on the subject. Malcolm (6) admits: “The Oriental philosophers were the ones I came to prefer; finally, my impression was that most Occidental philosophy had largely been borrowed from the Oriental thinkers”. In other words, he had come to find purpose in understanding the place of the other races in the world history, and this impressed him the most. This is so with almost every other prisoner, because they will come to have a sense of direction which they will follow.

Malcolm even confesses in his article that he could not have managed to learn as much in college as he did in prison. As Malcolm (6) says, “In fact, prison enabled me to study far more intensively than I would have if my life had gone differently and I had attended some college”.

Works Cited

Malcolm X, Little. Learning to Read. Smccd, 2012. Web.

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