The Prodigal Son by Malcolm Gladwell is the nineteenth of his sixteen books of the Prodigal Son series. Like its predecessors, The Prodigal Son delves into the life of a man whose family has been discarded by society, then travels back to the time of his birth and falls in with a group of other boys who are destined to become leaders of America. The theme that runs throughout the novel is that the family of today may have been rich and successful, but their recent traumas can be used to guide the future. Gladwell’s main thesis is that people must learn from past mistakes in order to move forward.
The Prodigal Son picks up shortly after the events of the first book, where the main character’s mother leaves him to go to work on her own while he is staying with his grandmother. He then travels to Texas to visit his father, who has become a much revered and influential lawyer. Shortly after his visit, his father dies of a bullet shot to the back.
Though the appearance of the character was changed to a more handsome man, the Prodigal Son is still clearly written as a story that revolves around a central character’s life. After the death of his father, Malcolm travels to California to begin a new life in an adopted family, but he quickly realizes he has to run from those who have abandoned him because of his unique qualities. In this modern-day American thriller, a gifted criminal psychologist sets forth on a dangerous mission to find those responsible for his family’s neglect. It takes the twists and turns of the typical police procedural, then gives it something of its own in its twisted genius and dark humor.
When the novel’s opening reveals the fact that Malcolm’s adopted father has been hanged on a stake, the reader realizes immediately that the story line is one that must be told. However, the twist isn’t what draws you into reading about the intricate plot, nor is it what makes you laugh or cry. No, what really moves the story along is the compelling nature of its protagonist, a man named Malcolm X. We all know that there are many controversial figures in history, and it’s no surprise that Malcolm X stands out among them. His dedication to his principles, coupled with his unique brand of rhetoric, make him an outspoken spokesperson for black Americans, and an inspiration for groups like the Black Panther Party, the Nation of Islam and many others.
The book begins by introducing us to the central character, Malcolm X, and his life before he became a radicalized member of the Black Panthers. Following his family’s relocation to Hawaii, Malcolm worked as a printer and short-order cook before discovering the hidden truth about America’s racial system: white people were really from Australia, and they had stolen black Americans from their rightful property. After this discovery, Malcolm became a devoted and vocal critic of America’s racial inequality. After numerous unsuccessful attempts to gain public attention for his views, Malcolm finally decided to use his newfound notoriety to get closer to his long-lost father. When he learned that an old friend, Harryette was also trying to locate his father, the young detective was finally reunited with his old friend.
While the story quickly progresses toward its conclusion, readers have a lot of questions that go unanswered. The biggest question left for the reader is how does Malcolm X react to the discovery that his father is a serial killer? Is he pleased that his father died so tragically, or does he feel responsible for his own untimely death? One of the most fascinating themes found within this modern day crime novel is the psychological reaction of a black American to his own legacy of crimes, and the implications these crimes may have had on his ancestors’ culture, society in general.
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