Quest for Manhood Malcolm X Essay

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 3 January 2017

Quest for Manhood Malcolm X

Manhood is when a boy takes the leap from being a child to a true man. People say that leap happens at different times for every boy. People can tell it happens because they stop acting foolishly and deal with matters by themselves. The four stories The Autobiography of Malcolm X, “The Ethics of Living Jim Crow”, “The Man Who Killed a Shadow”, and “Almos’ a Man” all deal with African American boys and them becoming true men. The literature of Richard Wright and Malcolm X illustrate how African American males encountered much difficulty in asserting their manhood while living within the racist society of the 1930’s and 1940’s.

Racism denied African American males the opportunity to gain economic power. In “The Ethics of Living Jim Crow”, the young African American boy gets a job in a factory. He works with white men and wants to learn more. One day he is told that the factory is “a white man’s work…and [he] better watch [him] self! ” (241) The white men feel he is threatening their job even though he is just trying to support his family. They threaten him and make him quit his job. Unlike the young boy who already has a job, Malcolm X moves to Boston to search for a new job. During Malcolm X, Malcolm decides his life would be better if he moves in with his sister.

He was walking through the city and noticed these people were “only a big city version of those successful Negro bootblacks and janitors back in Lansing” (42). Janitors and bootblacks were considered successful jobs for African Americans where that job for a white man would be around middle to lower class. Blacks don’t even have a chance at a good job like a lawyer or doctor. “The Man with a Shadow” is about an African American man growing up in life. He is working as a janitor and his boss has legs spread wide open and her panties showing. He is embarrassed and refuses to clean under her desk.

The boss becomes angry and screams, “‘You’re being paid to clean, You black nigger”’ (232). The black man feels real embarrassed and gets yelled at for not cleaning the same area again. He feels as if he is being treated like a slave. Also being called the N word is real offensive for African Americans. He has to quit because he accidentally killed the librarian. Economic power is one step in leading men to manhood, but exercising one’s freedom is also an important step. Racism prevented African American males from exercising their autonomy. In “The Ethics of Living Jim Crow”, the young African American boy has a job and is making a delivery.

He is on his back to the store when “a police car, swerving toward [him], jammed [him] into the curbing” (244). Blacks in this time period were treated unfairly. He is just trying to do his job and even the cops wouldn’t let blacks exercise their own independence. Whites put fear into blacks in all different kinds of settings during this time period, from work places to social settings. During Malcolm X, Malcolm is in a theatre watching a show. When the show started, Malcolm “was the only Negro in the theatre…[and] felt like crawling under a rug” (33).

People go to theatres all the time and shouldn’t be forced to feel uncomfortable while in them. Malcolm wants to watch the show, but since the country was so racist and he was the only black, he felt weird and wanted to leave. Later on in the book, Malcolm is thinking about what he wanted to do for his job. “Lansing certainly had no negro lawyers or doctors,” something he may have wanted to be (38). He wants to be successful in life, but as he recalls there are zero lawyers or doctors in Lansing. This quote shows that because of race alone, blacks can’t use their autonomy and get a job they aspire to be.

Finding their independence was hard enough, but trying to protect each other was even harder. Racism would not allow African American males to defend themselves or others. The young boy in “The Ethics of a Living Jim Crow” is at a store working when an old woman gets beat. “They would not beat me if I knew enough to keep my mouth shut” even though they beat that old black lady (243). The white workers beat an old black lady for not paying her bill. He could not defend the old lady because he knew the whites would hurt him if I tried to help her. Later on in the story, a security guard slaps a fellow black female employee on the butt.

The African American man feels embarrassed for letting his friend get slapped on the butt. The employee who got slapped says, “‘Don’t worry, you couldn’t help it”’ (246). This quote shows that blacks had no chance to defend others because if they did, the whites would just beat them even more. The girl knows they can’t do anything about it and tells him not to worry. From white security guards to racist groups such as the KKK, whites could do basically whatever they want to do to blacks at this time. At the very beginning of Malcolm X, the KKK is at Malcolm’s house.

They were surrounding the house, “brandishing their shotguns and rifles” (1). The KKK is around the house with weapons wanting Malcolm’s father to leave town. He had no way to defend himself because they had all weapons. Many people and organizations in town, and even the police are corrupt and don’t like the blacks. Part of being a man is defending others and the whites would not let them do this at this time. The four stories show how black males had different obstacles to overcome in gaining their manhood while living in the racist society during the mid 1900’s.

The boys in all the stories had problems they encountered on their way to finding their manhood. They couldn’t gain economic power, exercise their autonomy, or defend themselves and others. The 30’s and 40’s were a bad time for African Americans to live in, but as the years have gone on, minorities have gained more rights in America. With the help of groups such as the NAACP, blacks have more rights than ever. Barack Obama, the United States President and Tiger Woods, the world’s most popular athlete are both examples of how far African Americans have come.

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  • University/College: University of Arkansas System

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 3 January 2017

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