Brief Summary of Coming to an Awareness of Language - Paper Example

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Wesleyan University
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Malcolm Xs short narrative Coming to an Awareness of Language, gives an elaborate illustration of how young Malcolm X developed from an illiterate street hustler to a self-educated man in prison. Throughout the essay, the author speaks about the importance of being able to communicate in an educated manner, through all means. Malcolm X shows this by discussing the time he spent on the streets and how through speaking to his peers, he was able to communicate his thoughts and opinions. However, he acknowledges that his inability to read and write in proper English stopped him from communicating with people like Elijah Muhammad. Drawn from this context, we understand that what motivated his desperate desire to learn how to read and write was his realization that he was unable to speak articulately when writing to people he admired. According to Malcolm X, his inability to express himself prevented him from conveying himself in the best way possible and for this reason, he sought to change that for himself. Through his persistence in writing words in the dictionary, Malcolm X triumphs over this problem, in the end, was able to address all types of people with higher education levels. To him, this was a freedom that he had never experienced all this life.

A deep Question: With respect to Malcolm Xs different phases of life, how does his view about white people change over the course of his life?

Part B

Two discussion questions that relate to the essay and what the essay has to teach us about each one?

Question 1: How powerful is conformity as a force in an adults life? What does the essay teach about this?

By definition, conformity is the tendency for one to align their beliefs, behaviors, and attitudes with those of the people around them. Drawn from this premise, it is with no doubt that conformity is an overly dominant force that can particularly take the form of overt social pressure or unconscious influence, especially in our adult lives. According to psychological research, conformity is considered such a powerful force since through it; people are compelled to want to be with the program. Similarly, being an adult means being able to make well-thought-out decisions. However, owing to the powers of conformity people, despite being adults who can make their own decisions, will often follow a majoritys judgment, even in cases where that the majority is incorrect.

Relating to the Essay

With reference to Malcolm Xs essay, conformity can be used as a weapon that can help steer us into success in our adult life. This is substantiated in the essay where, despite being the most articulate hustler in the streets, Malcolm X realized that he really needed to act in accord with the prevailing standards of the educated people, and he could only do so by learning how to read and write. In the essay, Malcolm X says, I became increasingly frustrated at not being able to express what I wanted to convey in letters that I wrote, especially those to Mr. Elijah Muhammad. Similarly, Malcolm X conforms to Bimbis articulate communication in English. While at Charlestown Prison, he constantly felt envious of Bimbis stock of knowledge and for that reason, he desired to conform to Bimbis behaviors and attitudes for him to be taken seriously by those he wrote to. Bimbi had always taken charge of any conversation he was in, and I had tried to emulate him, Malcolm X states in his essay.

Therefore, drawn from the experiences of Malcolm X, the essay teaches us about conformity in the sense that it is easy for us to ruin our lives if we choose not to conform to societal norms. Despite the fact that conformity can in most cases take the form of overt social pressure, which can be toxic, the experience of Malcolm X being able to bring language awareness to himself shows that anyone is capable of educating themselves given they have the dedication to do so. Notably, through Malcolm Xs examples of conformity, it is evident that any person who is unhappy with their writing can make a change to improve the situation.

Question 2: How much Power do words have?

Words enable people to express themselves in a better and obscure way

The power that words contain is substantiated in the fact that, they allow one to express themselves in a better and obscure way. More fundamentally, despite the fact that words cannot change the reality, the power to them can change how people perceive this reality. A renowned scholar once said that Words are singularly the most powerful force available to humanity. This means that depending on the choices we make, the power contained in words can either be used constructively or destructively. Therefore, through the knowledge that is associated with words, people can reveal or portray their innermost feelings and views through written content, speeches, art, and behavior, among others.

Thus, with reference to the essay, Malcolm X details his experiences with his struggles in broadening his spectrum language for him to better communicate with people from all levels of education. He acknowledges that while on the streets, his articulate use of the street slang earned him a lot of attention In the street, I had been the most articulate hustler out there, I had commanded attention when I said something. However, Malcolm X was not able to communicate with other people other than his street fellows since he did not have the understanding of the words he would use to express himself. But now, trying to write simple English, I not only wasnt articulate, but I was alson't even

Functional. Based on this context, Malcolm X perceived the knowledge obtained in words as a powerful catalyst that would catapult his relevance through enabling him to convey his thoughts and ideas in the best way possible.

Words have the power to Liberate

Despite the fact that the complexities of language are not easily mastered, words give individuals the right to make their own decisions, do what they want and to also express their own opinions. This, in essence, liberates an individual from the fear of victimization and discrimination. The freedom found in words is also evidenced in Malcolm Xs essay. Throughout the first half of the essay, Malcolm X perceives himself as a prisoner who was not able to exercise his freedom of expression, mainly because he lacked the knowhow of reading and writing. Besides, Malcolm X also explains that although he wrote letters to some of the people he had known in the hustling world, he did not receive any reply to them since they could not express themselves. I never got a single reply. The average hustler and criminal were too uneducated to write a letter. Towards, the end of the essay, however, the author gives evidence to the fact that words have the ability to give freedom since he triumphs over his struggles to read and write and was eventually able to communicate with people across all levels of education by the time he left prison. To him, this was the real definition of freedom he had never experienced his entire life months passed without my even thinking about being imprisoned. In fact, up to then, I never had been so truly free in my life.

Words Enable One to Connect With Other People Mentally

Additionally, through words, one can unleash the power of emotional connection. In the essay, Malcolm X feels frustrated by the fact that he was not able to express what he wanted to convey through his letters. Based on the fact that he was not conversant with reading and writing correct English, he did not achieve an emotional connection with people such as the Governor of Massachusetts, Harry S. Truman or even the Mayor of Boston. Nonetheless, upon the awareness of language, Malcolm X found the love emotion for books and as he says, You couldnt have gotten me out of books with a wedge. Besides, he was now able to read and understand Muhammads teachings.

They Have the Power to Perceive Things Differently

It is with no doubt that words enable one to get a new perspective that enables them to understand the world in a better way. For instance, in the essay, through Malcolm Xs struggle in working on his penmanship, he eventually learns about so many words that he didnt know existed like an aardvark. Immensely proud to realize that not only had I written so much at one time, but Id written words that I never knew were in the world. Thus, through learning these new words, Malcolm X was able to perceive the world differently.

Essays styles

In his essay Coming to an Awareness of Language, Malcolm X makes use of various expository devices, which help illuminate or expose the deeper meanings of his writing. Some of the devices used in the essay are such as;


An allusion is a literary device that points to a story, person or an event that is well known. In the essay, Malcolm X alludes to the devil, to bring the readers mind the idea that Malcolm X perceived the white folks as evil and as the people who were responsible for the suffering of the black men in the wilderness of North America. I felt that the real reason was that the white man knew that he was the devil. In the same vein, the allusion Wilderness of North America enables the reader to relate to the extreme suffering and discrimination of the African Americans who were mistreated by the white society, in these regions.


An anecdote is a to brief illustrative story that reveals an account of an person or an incident. In this essay, Malcolm X makes use of an anecdote at the beginning of the story to reminisce and to bring cheer at the beginning. For instance, the essay begins by Ive never been one for inaction. Everything Ive ever felt strongly about, Ive done something about. This, in essence, helps the reader to marry the content in the essay with all the legendary achievements we know about Malcolm X in history.


An epiphany is a point in a piece of writing where a character suddenly has a realization that changes his or her understanding. In the essay, the writer, Malcolm X, has an intense moment of insight where he suddenly realizes how much learning the English language became important for him to freely express himself and also communicate with people from all academic levels. Besides, after the frustrations he got from reading books with words that he could not understand, Malcolm X suddenly realized how all the resources available to him such as dictionary enabled him to learn how to read words that he did not even know existed in the world. Malcolm X states that I spent two days just riffling uncertainly through the dictionarys pages. Id never realized so many words existed!

Levels of Language

In his narrative Coming to an Awareness of Language, Malcolm X extensively uses different language levels to expound on the ideal purpose of the essay. Among the most commonly used levels of language are such as;


The author skillfully uses colloquial language which is the language that is used in ordinary and familiar conversations to expound on his life on the streets. For example, Malcolm X talks of, people I had known in the hustling world, such as Sammy the Pimp, John Hughes, the gambling house owner, the thief Jump steady, and several dope peddlers. In this regard, the author tries to achieve a sense of informality that enables the writer to perceive the difference between his life on the streets and that after his self-taught language awareness.


This is a level of language that makes use of indirect or mild words and expressions to substitute for those that are considered harsh, blunt or offensive. Malcolm X makes use of certain words such as hustler to refer to his street fri...

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