Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Spring 2017

Document Type

Thesis

Type of Thesis

Departmental Honors

Department

English

First Advisor

Nicole Wright

Second Advisor

Jeremy Green

Third Advisor

Rolf Norgaard

Fourth Advisor

Abby Hickcox

Abstract

This work analyzes how Ta-Nehisi Coates’s memoir, Between the World and Me is an example of how personal narratives can convey political arguments. By looking at the memoir and how it compares to writer James Baldwin’s memoir, I attempt to explore how memoir not only functions to convey individual struggle but also continues a legacy of intergenerational discussion through the realm of literary work. Living as a millennial in a time of racial injustice and prejudice, I have sought to find ways of interpreting these social issues through new perspectives. Coates’s work serves as a revolutionary text that enables readers to perceive American experience through the eyes of individuals who have been marginalized by its culture. I argue that Coates disassembles notions of a unified “American” viewpoint by taking shared cultural events and representing them through his personal view as a black man. Doing so gives agency to black men who have endured the bigotry and violence of a historically racist nation. By placing Coates’s work into the context of slavery, police brutality, family, and literature, this thesis will evaluate the importance of genre and its ability to conceive new ways of interpreting shared America experiences as it pertains to race. The overall analysis from this work will identify how methods of discourse affect the public in positive and negative ways. The criticism that I examine challenges Coates for his pessimism. I argue how memoirs with cynical perspectives such as this may influence the ways that we communicate struggle on a national level and how effective our strategies can be. Furthermore, it is this thesis’s intention to reveal how Coates exemplifies the current generation of writers dealing with the subject of race, but more importantly, how he stands apart from past authors.

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