Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Nancy. K Miller

Committee Members

Hildegard Hoeller

Robert Reid-Pharr

Subject Categories

African American Studies | American Literature | English Language and Literature | Ethnic Studies | Latina/o Studies | Literature in English, North America, Ethnic and Cultural Minority | Other English Language and Literature | Rhetoric and Composition


autobiography, Gloria Anzaldua, Maxine Hong Kingston, Frederick Douglass, Freshman Composition, diversity


The Communal “I” in American autobiography emerges as an aesthetic response to the pressure of using “the master’s tools” to write from a community on the margins to disclose identity in the conflicts of exclusion and belonging. In this case “the master’s tools” to refer to several distinct elements the communal “I” is tasked with navigating: the use of what we have come to identify as standard English, the form and function of European autobiography as a celebration of individual exceptionalism, and the contradictory pressures on these autobiographies to both elevate and protect the communities in question from further marginalization. In addition, the work examines how three writers from these communities (Frederick Douglass, Maxine Hong Kingston and Gloria Anzaldúa) have been absorbed and framed within the emerging minority/diversity canon in American universities, and how one (Jesús Colón) has been conspicuously left out. The intention of effecting social change complicates and shapes the autobiographical in many ways. The communal “I,” as it operates in the autobiographies I focus on, both limits and expands the singular “I.” It gives the writers strategic options for balancing self-representation with the pressures to represent the communal.