Literary Devices: Malcolm X

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Most of us learn to read through various outlets such as television, books, movies, etc. Becoming literate is essential to functioning in society. Looking back at one of the most influential figures of the 1960’s, it is hard to imagine that at age 21 Malcolm X tried to start a letter with “Look, daddy, let me pull your coat about a cat…” (X 256). He spent 7 years in prison for robbery, and during that time he underwent a self-metamorphosis. His way of putting it is “books opened up a whole new world to me” (260). History, philosophy, genetics and a whole dictionary all contributed to his learning process. But, as he learned more, he found the terrors of slavery and the other atrocities that the white man had brought upon the world’s non-white people. In this period of time in which he became more versed and more aware, we see the emergence of who people think of as Malcolm X today. He was an intelligent, black, Muslim man that influenced the civil rights movement of the 1960’s. The literary techniques that Malcolm X uses in “Learning to Read” are imagery, tone, and diction to explore his self-transformation by books.

The first of the three devices that are shown in the essay is imagery. His imagery makes it very easy to connect with his story, and put yourself in his shoes. Early in the essay, he talks about his pre-transformation self as someone who can hardly communicate in written word, and by writing out his slang we can hear his voice rather than just read it. “Look daddy, let me pull your coat about a cat, Elijah Muhammad” (256). Rather than just saying, “I was barely literate” he lets the reader’s mind fill together the missing parts as he gives his picture of how he was before his transformation. When X tells about his introduction to the dictionary, the reader can instantly relate his story to their own experiences with dictionaries; able to look back on the day when they found that aardvark and zygote are the first and last words in the...