Malcolm X Themes Present Term Paper

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Malcolm X

Themes Present in the Works of Malcolm X and Richard Rodriguez

Determination and commitment

The themes of determination and commitment are central to the texts under consideration here. In Malcolm X's "Learning to Read" (1965) and Robert Rodriguez' "The Achievement of Desire," a tremendous amount or irony marks the examination of education. In spite of this irony, both authors do address the rather traditional theme connecting success to determination and commitment. Even still, their experiences with these qualities would be far from commonplace.

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In the excerpt from the autobiography of Malcolm X, the author describes the intensive mode of study to which he subjected himself while serving a seven-year prison sentence. According to the civil rights leader's own report, "in my slow, painstaking, ragged handwriting, I copied into my tablet everything printed on that first page, down to the punctuation marks. I believe it took me a day. Then, aloud, I read back, to myself, everything I'd written on the tablet. Over and over, aloud, to myself, I read my own handwriting." (Malcolm X, p. 1) the commitment demonstrated here would permeate Malcolm's future relationship with the written word, in fact with all of his pursuits. Indeed, Malcolm X would go on to copy every single word in the dictionary, repeating the exercises described above until he had attained an extraordinary mastery of the English language. He would use this to great effect and authority as a leader in the movement for black pride and freedom, owing his future eloquence to the commitment and determination in his self-driven studies.

Term Paper on Malcolm X Themes Present in the Works Assignment

As an interesting point of contrast, the determination and commitment which perhaps comes through most strongly in the Rodriguez text is actually that of his parents. While Rodriguez displays these qualities in school, his parents exhibit them in their tireless support for an educational development that will ultimately distance him from his family. Rodriguez tells that his parents were invariably dedicated to furthering his interests even though in many ways, they stood to suffer emotionally from this orientation. Rodriguez would come to understand this as he would advance in his studies. He tells that tightening the irony into a knot was the knowledge that my parents were always behind me. They made success possible. They evened the path. They sent their children to parochial schools because the nuns 'teach better.' They paid a tuition they couldn't afford. They spoke English to us." (Rodriguez, p. 603)

This is a remarkable demonstration of commitment and provides an important example to Rodriguez, even if it takes a form that will drive an irreparable wedge between he and his parents. This a consequence that his parents embrace unwittingly and that he embraces knowing full well what must ultimately come of it. Certainly, as Rodriguez ultimately resolves to attend college and even further expand his studies, it must be said that his parents actively propelled him down this path even if they felt its emotional sting in eventuality.

For Malcolm X, we know through the lens of history that his commitment and determination would also have their inevitable consequence. Indeed, Malcolm X would give his life in commitment to his cause. Rodriguez, through not moved to this degree of peril, would give nothing less than his culture, identity and familial closeness in his commitment and determination.

2. Academic success, what is it?

Conventionally, academic success is defined according to the standards provided by the institutions of learning themselves. Grades, degrees and honorary titles are the usual hallmarks of achievement in the educational context. And certainly, these intangible measures of success are intended to provide access to opportunities for career advancement and high earning potential. However, in the texts by both Robert Rodriguez and Malcolm X, academic success takes on something of a different set of implications. For Rodriguez, the conventional markers of academic success breed internal turmoil while for Malcolm X, the conventional markers of academic success are simply inaccessible. As we will find in the following discussion, both authors would find ways of independently defining academic success so as to cope with their respective impediments.

In the case of Rodriguez, academic success is defined as something somewhat more internally contradictory. While Rodriguez emulated his teachers in his academic ambition and defined academic success by his proximity to their qualifications, his parents perceived it as something very much belonging to their son's world and not their own. Even still, they viewed it with a mix of pride and trepidation. Rodriguez observes that "in contrast to my mother, my father never verbally encouraged his children's academic success. Nor did he often praise us. My mother had to remind him to 'say something' to one of his children who scored some academic success. But whereas my mother saw in education the opportunity for job advancement, my father recognized that education provided an even more startling possibility: it could enable a person to escape from a life of mere labor." (Rodriguez, p. 604)

Even still, we find that as Rodriguez prepares to depart for college -- a particular distinction of academic success -- his parents greet the decision with hurt feelings and contempt. His father perceives -- perhaps rather astutely -- the university system and its degrees with suspicion. A similar suspicion, undermining the relative challenges and expectations resident to the American university, is present in the text by Malcolm X Here, he recalls of his extremely rigorous reading schedule that in many ways it was far more challenging and intellectually stimulating than what passed for academic study. Malcolm X would go on to note that his mode of study was inherently stripped of the socioeconomic imperatives that surround higher education.

The result was a more pure way of consuming knowledge than he believed was possible in school. Malcolm X would note that "I have often reflected upon the new vistas that reading opened to me. I knew right there in prison that reading had changed forever the course of my life. As I see it today, the ability to read awoke inside me some long dormant craving to be mentally alive. I certainly wasn't seeking any degree, the way a college confers a status symbol upon its students. My homemade education gave me, with every additional book that I read, a little bit more sensitivity to the deafness, dumbness, and blindness that was afflicting the black race in America. Not long ago, an English writer telephoned me from London, asking questions. One was, 'What's your alma mater?' I told him, 'Books.'" (Malcolm X, p. 1)

This is a remarkable response and one that underlines the most important commonality between both authors. From their shared obsession with reading and their self-directed paths to intellectual betterment, we know that both viewed academic success as something defined by knowledge obtained and enlightenment achieved rather than approval gained and status advanced.


For many people, educational opportunity is taken for granted. Many a student is given access to remarkable resources with little reflection on the costs imposed upon others in their pursuit of the same ends with lesser means. Where Robert Rodriguez and Malcolm X are concerned, the sacrifices made in the interests of education were too imposing to ignore. While their respective experiences with education would cast them down different cultural paths, both Rodriguez and Malcolm X must make considerable sacrifice for their ambitions.

For Rodriguez, the sacrifice of gaining a good education is enormous. It is not inherently the work or dedication which manifests as sacrifice. Rodriguez describes the far greater sacrifice of balance between family life and the pursuit of success. As Rodriguez says, success could only come by allowing the balance to tilt further toward this than family. Accordingly, he laments that "gradually, necessary, the balance is lost. The boy needs to spend more and more time studying, each night enclosing himself in the silence permitted and required by intense concentration. He takes his first step toward academic success, away from his family." (Rodriguez, p. 600) That these two conditions are concurrent speaks to what Rodriguez perceives as the great sacrifice of his educational accomplishments. Indeed, this is the cause for his sense of irony over the notion that his parents 'must be very proud' of him. In fact, he harbors a sense of regret and shame over how his ambition has implicitly hurt his parents. As Rodriguez seems in part grateful for the opportunities that his education has facilitated, we may presume that the sacrifice was ultimately a necessary one, but we can see that it is also one which the writer has struggled to reconcile.

For Malcolm X, the sacrifice precipitated by his learning would be yet greater than that experienced by Rodriguez. While Rodriguez reluctantly found distance from his culture in a learning context direct by the white hierarchy, Malcolm X gained greater closeness to his culture by immersing himself in an education aimed at helping his people. Malcolm X recalls that "the teachings of Mr. Muhammad stressed how history had been "whitened"… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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How to Cite "Malcolm X Themes Present" Term Paper in a Bibliography:

APA Style

Malcolm X Themes Present.  (2012, April 24).  Retrieved October 26, 2020, from

MLA Format

"Malcolm X Themes Present."  24 April 2012.  Web.  26 October 2020. <>.

Chicago Style

"Malcolm X Themes Present."  April 24, 2012.  Accessed October 26, 2020.