Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Robert Reid-Pharr

Committee Members

Kandice Chuh

Linda Martin Alcoff

Subject Categories

Africana Studies | American Studies | Continental Philosophy | Liberal Studies | Modern Literature | Other Philosophy | Philosophy


Chicago, identity, Beauvoir, Jack, bear, epistemology


African American Existential Heroes: Narrative Struggles for Authenticity argues for the development of existential authenticities and their impact on African American self-identity constructions in three African American literary classics:

Richard Wright’s The Outsider, Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, and James Baldwin’s Go Tell It on the Mountain. For that purpose, the introduction puts forward the aforementioned topic; defines the major terms, authenticity, existentialism, and African Americanness; identifies the three texts to be studied; explicates its methodology; studies the anagnorisis of each text in relation to the existential crisis; accounts for the existential philosophers used, Martin Heidegger, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Soren Kierkegaard; and then elaborates on the overall structure of the dissertation, an introduction, three chapters with three sections each, and a conclusion. In Chapter One, “Richard Wright’s The Outsider and African American Existential Authenticity,” the dissertation centers on the main character’s inauthenticity as expressed through his existential crisis: his fanatical desire to be free. What is revealed, though, is his monomaniacal desire to have power over everyone and everything that leads to a destructive nihilism. The study then follows how the main character overcomes his inauthenticity and how it impacts his sense of being an African American. In Chapter Two, “Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man: Invisibility and African American Existential Authenticity,” the focus is on the main character’s existential inauthenticity that comes primarily from his invisibility to himself. The examination then turns to how his inauthenticity is resolved through his realization of the visibility-invisibility dialectic that impacts his African American self-making. Chapter Three, “James Baldwin’s Go Tell It on the Mountain and African American Existential Authenticity,” analyzes the existential inauthenticity that comes from the fourteen-year-old main character’s existential dread and despair. The ostensible impediments for his self-making are mainly two: his sense of wickedness and his perceived sin, which are found to come from his struggle with his stepfather and his incipient homosexuality. The analysis, then, details his development towards authenticity as a result of his experience with what Pentecostal Christians call the Holy Spirit, which gives the main character visions of an ecumenically loving God that impacts his self-making as an African American. The conclusion presents a meditative summation of the dissertation and takes into account the perennial significance of African American existential analysis and the need to utilize it for further analysis of other African American literary works produced before and after the twentieth century.