Writing the life of the self: constructions of identity in autobiographical discourse by six eighteenth-century American Indians
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The invasion of the Western Hemisphere by empire-building Europeans brought European forms of rhetoric to the Americas. American Indians who were exposed to European-style education gradually adopted some of the cultural ways of the invaders, including rhetorical forms and operations that led, via literacy in European languages, to autobiographical writing, historical consciousness, and literary self-representation. This dissertation uses rhetorical criticism to analyze autobiographical discourse of six eighteenth-century American Indian writers: Samuel Ashpo, Hezekiah Calvin, David Fowler, Joseph Johnson, Samson Occom, and Tobias Shattock. Their texts are rhetorically interrelated through several circumstances: all of these men were educated in a missionary school; most of them probably learned to read and write in English at the school; they left the school and worked as teachers and Christian missionaries to Indians, sharing similar obstacles and successes in their work; and they are Others on whom their teacher, Eleazar Wheelock, inscribed European culture. The six Indian writers appropriate language and tropes of the encroaching Euro-American culture in order to define themselves in relation to that culture and make their voices heard. They participated in European colonial culture by responding iv to, and co-creating, rhetorical situations. While the Indians' written discourse and the situations that called forth their writing have been examined and discussed through a historical lens, critiques of early American Indian autobiography that make extensive use of rhetorical analysis are rare. Thus this dissertation offers a long-overdue treatment of rhetoric in early American Indian autobiography and opens the way to rhetorical readings of autobiography by considering the early formation of the genre in a cross-cultural context.
Pruett, David Alan (2005). Writing the life of the self: constructions of identity in autobiographical discourse by six eighteenth-century American Indians. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A&M University. Texas A&M University. Available electronically from