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The narratives presented by both writers in “Prison Studies” and “Me Talk Pretty One Day,” both describe each author’s pursuit of literacy given different circumstances. In Sedaris’s account, he is illiterate in the French language, where Malcolm X struggles to learn English. Both are learning in a foreign environment, but places like France and prison may differ in attractiveness. Sedaris conquers his French illiteracy with the help of his unforgiving instructor where Malcolm X is self-taught. Interference is also an issue. Malcolm X is quite content in his prison cell for its sanctuary and iron curtain. Sedaris, on the other hand, is surrounded by the bright lights and distractions of Paris. Any aberration or lack thereof would affect each author’s education. Both men go through intense routines to overcome illiteracy. Malcolm X was devoted to copying, and thereby memorizing, the dictionary while Sedaris and his classmates were harassed by a merciless, cold-blooded French teacher. Both men go on to fulfill meaningful and renowned lives after first learning a crucial skill, although both neglect to follow up on their successes in these passages.
Through their writing, we can see that these two men were extremely committed to refinement through literacy. Malcolm X first began studying in prison, before he had any notion of the Nation of Islam and his movement. From this reading, it is not completely obvious on whether Malcolm X studied solely for himself or to improve his social speaking skills. There may be some overlap during his time in prison. Sedaris’s motives are a little clearer. He mentions in the beginning, that he had chosen to return to school. Sedaris does not reveal his true incentives for learning the French language, but we assume that it would have helped him in his playwriting. He must have been quite focused on this goal to move to France and put up with such a mean-spirited teacher.
Despite their reasons for dramatically improving their own literacy, both Malcolm X and Sedaris used their new expertise to turn the heads of many allegiant followers. Malcolm X used his vocal superiority to sway the minds of frustrated black Americans. David Sedaris used his knowledge of the French language to help him compose his plays, essays, and humor. Both cases are fine examples of great reward following practiced dedication and hard work. I, myself, cannot yet fall into the category of literacy giants like these two men. My experience with literacy is not unlike that of any other college freshmen. I believe I do mediocre work and, at this time, I do not have much to show for it. I have not gone through any of the trials like the ones Malcolm X or David Sedaris went through to get to where I am now, but the effort I applied to my high school English courses has prepared me for this one. I am proud to say the University has awarded me a small scholarship for my modest high school grades. I believe this is what I have to show for my experience in literacy. Like many other of my classmates, this may be my last English class. That does not mean what I take with me will be sidelined or forgotten, but as proportionally effective as the two authors.
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