Comparison of “Homemade Education” by Malcolm X and “Letter from Birmingham Jail” by Martin Luther King, Jr

In most cases, the purpose of a text is to share something with the reader – an idea or emotion, or even the author’s personal view of reality. Both texts, “Homemade Education” by Malcolm X and “Letter from Birmingham Jail” by Martin Luther King, JR, set forth fascinating facts. However, the authors express such a strong passion that their messages become very powerful.

Malcolm X wanted to share his experience of personal transformation caused by reading, with anyone who was willing to read. The text suggests that the reader might have heard Malcolm X speaking on television or come across one of his articles, and now willing to learn more about the origin of his beliefs. Therefore, the author gives a detailed and reasoned explanation of his position with regard to racial issues.

In his letter, Martin Luther King, JR addressed certain clergymen who had expressed their disapproval of the public demonstrations held in Birmingham. The letter was public and, therefore, aimed at broad audience. The author himself confirmed this when, for instance, he appealed to his “Jewish brothers” for support.

The texts are very similar as they deal with the same problem – the horrible attitude that white Americans expressed towards people of other races, especially their colored fellow citizens. The rhetorical techniques used in the text are also quite alike, but I will highlight the most powerful of them. First, both authors broadly used generalization as a means to compare the behavior of people of different nationalities and views, for example, “the collective white man” or “the Negro”, or, as M. L. King puts it, “the white moderate”.

Second, the texts contain many vivid metaphors. King, however, used them more freely (e.g., “cup of endurance”, “shadow of disappointment”, or “ill-formed infant of frustration”). Malcolm X’s text is, in turn, rich in zoomorphisms (e.g., “British administration kept tentacling out to half of subcontinent”) and personifications (e.g., “white men raped China at a time when China was trusting and helpless”).

When emphasizing his point, M. L. King repeated the same word many times (e.g., “I am here because I have basic organizational ties here”). In order to demonstrate his sincerity before God and men, he also gives that beautiful passage: “If I have said anything in this letter that is an overstatement of the truth…I beg you to forgive me. If I have said anything in this letter that is an understatement of the truth… I beg God to forgive me.”

Malcolm X addressed his reader directly with rhetorical questions and exclamations (e.g., “Imagine!”), thus gripping their attention and encouraging empathy. M. L. King in his letter carefully follows the structure of “The Public Statement of Eight Alabama Clergymen”, answering every their criticism and citing the objections they might have made to him. However, he skillfully refutes every claim of his opponents while displaying remarkable logic and common sense.

In order to enhance credibility of their writings, the authors referred to many sources. Malcolm X cited famous historical books that highlighted the history of black people. Speaking to clergymen, Dr. King, of course, cited Christian authors, like Augustine, and compared his own behavior to the life of Christ and characters of the Book of Daniel.

In conclusion, I would like to point out the overall impression that the texts had on me. I was deeply touched with the irony and almost childlike rapture, with which Malcolm X described his early reading attempts. This sincere and naive manner suggests that he was not ashamed of his past and did not want to distort it with self-exultation.

Martin Luther King, Jr, in turn, greatly impressed me with meekness and respect that he showed towards his opponents. He called them “dear friends” and men of “genuine good will”. In my opinion, such commending frankness and true Christian meekness, which the authors displayed in the two texts, demonstrate the brilliance and richness of their personalities.

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