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Comparing and Contrasting Benjamin Franklin and Malcolm X

Comparing and Contrasting Benjamin Franklin and Malcolm X

Benjamin Franklin and Malcolm X are both significant figures in American history. The former played an important role as one of the nation’s founding fathers. He played an important role in ending the American Revolution war and helped to draft the constitution and declaration of independence that made the United States a free nation. On the other hand, Malcolm played an important role during the fight for equal civil rights in America, mainly for the African American communities. Though from different historical eras, Franklin and Malcolm have some similarities. They also had some significant differences that set them apart. This essay compares the factors that were similar and differentiates those that made them distinct with a specific focus on their education.


Both Franklin and Malcolm use a narrative method to tell their story. They convey information about their experiences through life by telling a story. Franklin begins his story with his childhood experiences. He explains how he grew fond of reading at a young age; he had a thirst for knowledge, which motivated him to make use of the books available in his father’s library. On the other hand, Malcolm does not write much about his childhood experiences. Although he mentions the fact that he never got a chance to pursue an education past the eighth grade, his narration is mainly focused on his experiences as an adult. He begins his story by explaining the frustration he experienced when he was unable to express himself. He states, “I became increasingly frustrated at not being able to express what I wanted…” (455). He then focuses his story on his self-teaching journey while in prison. Generally, Franklin and Malcolm are both narrators; the only difference is the period in their lives where their stories are centered.

Malcolm and Franklin had similar approaches to self-teaching. One common technique they used to learn more was imitation. Both of these figures imitated various sources, which they considered to be perfect for their learning. Malcolm realized that he did not know or understand the meanings of many English words. Therefore, started copying the words from a dictionary in a bid to learn them. In his “slow, Painstaking, ragged handwriting”, he copied the dictionary page by page and read what he had written (455). Imitating what had been written in the dictionary was his way of learning. He states that the process fascinated him. He even remembered that the first word he copied was ‘aardvark’, showing that this process was an effective way for him to learn. Franklin also imitated the essays in ‘The Spectator’ as a way of learning to improve his writing. When his father pointed out that he needed to improve his writing, he embarked on a self-learning process with the help of this English periodical known for its witty and graceful essays. He states, “I thought the writing was excellent, and wished if possible, to imitate it” (455). Franklin and Malcolm also adopted a teacher-mentor-collaborator relationship in their journey with self-education. Franklin was Matthew Adams’ apprentice when working at his bookstore. He also collaborated with his friend John Collins in debates to practice his learning. On the other hand, Malcolm was highly inspired by Elijah Muhammad, a U.S. clergyman, to develop his reading and writing skills. He collaborated with Bimbi, a fellow inmate who made him envy his knowledge and, in turn, motivated him to work harder to learn (455). Therefore, both Malcolm and Franklin found imitation to be an effective strategy for learning.

Even though their learning was at different ages in their life, both Franklin and Malcolm expressed great interest in learning about history and social issues in society. As a child, Franklin’s interest in books was classical histories and theological and self-improvement books. He was also interested in social issues, as he mentioned an argument about women’s education rights in society at the time. His friend did not think that women had enough capability to be educated, but he supported equal education rights for all sexes. Malcolm also read a lot of history while in prison. His reading mainly focused on the history of black people, not only in America but also in other parts of the world. He read about the oppression of the African people and other colored communities, such as in India and China. Through this reading, he gained the motivation to fight for the civil rights of African Americans. Generally, during their times, Malcolm and Franklin were interested in learning more about what was going on in their societies.

In summary, Franklin and Malcolm were both spectacular individuals. They were from different social and political backgrounds but expressed similarities in their quest for education. The main difference is the significant age difference in their respective narrations when they develop the motivation to learn. Other than that, they were both self-educated and used similar techniques of self-teaching, such as imitation and the use of mentor-collaborator relationships. Also, they both expressed interest in learning about social issues, which is not surprising considering the social change they both inspired.

Works Cited

Franklin, from Autobiography; Malcolm X, from Autobiography (452-61).


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Comparing and Contrasting: Benjamin Franklin and Malcolm X


  • Comparing/Contrasting
  • Three pages, typed (CR/NC)

    Comparing and Contrasting Benjamin Franklin and Malcolm X

    Comparing and Contrasting Benjamin Franklin and Malcolm X


From “Chapter 5: Comparing,” please choose one of the following options, read the article(s), and write a ½-page (100 word minimum) statement of topic for your “comparison/contrast” essay, due at the beginning of class. Bottom line: what specific points of comparison and contrast do they share?

  • Education: Franklin, from Autobiography; Malcolm X, from Autobiography (452-61).

Working and Final Drafts

As you write your Working and Final drafts, please bear in mind these criteria for a comparison/contrast, which for us includes discussion of both similarities (comparisons) and differences (contrasts):

  • Enumerating similarities and differences is one way to start, but a better approach—since you’ll be discussing similarities and differences at the same time in the essay—is to make of list of their “points of contact”: list some specific ideas or issues that you can compare and contrast in one paragraph. In the Anthropology option, for example, you might find such “points of contact” (and devote a paragraph to each) in their narrative method (both narrate a story), in the subject of creation (in one it’s nature and humanity and in the other only one of these), in their uses of reason and evidence vs. imagination (each has a clear preference). In the Franklin and Malcolm X autobiographies, your paragraph topics might be furnished by looking closely at how they have both similarities and differences in the way they adopt teacher-mentor-collaborator figures, what motivations they express, or what specific methods of self-teaching they develop—like imitating written authorities. For the American Revolution, leadership might be a paragraph topic, and for the detective fiction the hard-boiled but heart-of-gold character of the narrator might be a comparison-contrast to discuss for a paragraph. As you consider how to compare your two (or more) sources, consider not only what each writer has to say, but how he says it, when and where he says it (i.e., contexts such as publication date or what culture the writer comes from), why he says it (possible motivations).
  • Since this essay builds on earlier ones, you’ll be using other critical strategies that we’ve used already (summary, classification, etc.). A crucial question in this essay, as in others, is how much you need to summarize: and the answer here, as in others, is only to the extent that summarizing helps you to achieve your present purpose of comparing articles. So summarize and classify only insofar as they help you make useful comparisons. Don’t paraphrase for the sake of paraphrase.
  • Don’t discuss similarities and differences separately; discuss them at the same time in the same paragraph so that each paragraph is centered on a single point of comparison or “contact” between the two. Here’s a glimpse of how your paragraphs might be organized:
  • As always, give full bibliographic information for your article(s) in a Works Cited at the end of your paper (see attachment), then just use parenthetical page numbers in your text when you paraphrase or quote.

“Point of Contact” A

Both stories offer first-person accounts…

Chandler’s character narrates this way…

Moseley’s character narrates this way…

Compare/contrast details of how they narrate the story…

“Point of Contact” B

Both creation stories refer to pre-existing things . . .

The Aranda narrative starts with. . .

Abell’s article starts with . . .

Compare/contrast details of their starting points . . .

“Point of Contact” C

Franklin and Malcolm X both imitate written sources . . .

Franklin imitates essays from The Spectator . . .

Malcolm X literally copies dictionary entries . . .

Compare/contrast details of how they imitate sources . . .

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