In A Son of the Forest (1829) and The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965), the narrators describe their most formative experiences in relation to addiction and their respective religions. Though these narratives emerged at different periods (almost a century apart) in North American history, there are considerable similarities between them. As William Apess describes his struggle with alcoholism, he also appropriates both the language of popular literature and print culture in the Methodist movement, and in turn criticizes the white supremacist ideals ingrained in early American culture. Similarly, Malcolm X details his experience with substance abuse while criticizing white supremacist ideals, specifically, those that are ingrained in patriotic symbols, such as the Bible and the Constitution. Additionally, X's participation in the Nation of Islam illustrates his complex, and sometimes constrained, relationship with the leader of the religion, Elijah Muhammed. This thesis explores both subject-formation and the narrators' development of their self-knowledge. I interpret these concepts using Louis Althusser's theory of interpellation and Michel Foucault's theory of technologies of self; these frameworks are complementary due to their emphases on an individual's relationship to the state. I conclude that subject-formation and addiction are two sides of the same coin in these narratives. Apess and X struggle with addiction in their narratives but ultimately recover and are transformed both physically and mentally. By demonstrating the dynamics of agency between the narrated and narrating "I," this thesis describes the ways that these narrators develop their self-knowledge in light of their experiences, making life narrative a transformative literary platform.
Master of Arts (M.A.)
College of Arts and Humanities
English; Literary, Cultural, and Textual Studies
Length of Campus-only Access
Masters Thesis (Open Access)
Kelley, Tiffanie, "Life Narratives as Technologies of Self: Explorations of Agency in A Son of the Forest and The Autobiography of Malcolm X" (2020). Electronic Theses and Dissertations, 2020-. 71.