American Studies ETDs

Publication Date



In the 1920s, Americans grew increasingly interested in the figure of the primitive man, who was championed as the antidote to civilization's weakening effects on the modern human spirit. Concurrently in the field of American Studies, Vernon Lewis Parrington theorized about the effects of the "broad currents" of American life. the return to a primitive, natural self was just such a “broad current” of the day. With primitive conduct as the potential salve for civilized humanity, a handful of American authors of the 1920s used fake autobiographies to articulate the savage internal self. In the four texts that comprise this study, the savage within is interpreted using two theories of identity: Hegel’s Being-Other and José Esteban Muñoz’s “disidentification.” This study contributes to the fields of American Studies and literary studies in a historically centered formalist analysis that utilizes an original platform for reading and consideration, the misdirection spectrum, which may serve other scholars in analyzing fake autobiographies from other time periods. In Chief Buffalo Child Long Lance: The Autobiography of a Blackfoot Indian Chief (1928), Sylvester Long reinvents himself as an American Indian based on the expectations of his readers, using perilocutionary audience presumptions as his main strategy of misdirection. In Samuel Ornitz’ Haunch, Paunch, and Jowl: An Anonymous Autobiography of a Professional Jew (1923), the savage being-other is Meyer Hirsch, an adaptable and ruthless Jewish Daniel Boone of Manhattan, who uses the pendulum swing between felicity and infelicity as a tool of misdirection in his confessional narrative. In The Cradle of the Deep (1929), Joan Lowell invents a childhood spent on the high seas and employs the misdirective strategy of the as-if world to explore recrudescence and voluntary rebirth in an interpretation of the feminine savage. In The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1932), Gertrude Stein uses the domestic simplicity of Alice B. Toklas’ voice to broaden her readership and connect with the ordinary “america” from whom she felt increasingly distanced, drawing on the power of the aura effect. The four savage fake autobiographies analyzed in this study, in conjunction with strategies of misdirection employed by each autobiography, reflect how Americans of the 1920s were conceptualizing notion of an American identity and the place of the individual in contemporary society. The internal savage acted as a device of self-reinvention, allowing authors and readers to draw on the figure of primitive man to fashion a more robust individualism in the following decades.




Autobiography, Fake, Misdirection, 1920s, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, Chief Buffalo Child Long Lance, Disidentification, Samuel Ornitz, Vernon Lewis Parrington

Document Type


Degree Name

American Studies

Level of Degree


Department Name

American Studies

First Advisor

Trujillo, Michael

First Committee Member (Chair)

Vizenor, Gerald

Second Committee Member

Rebolledo, Tey Diana

Third Committee Member

Herrera, Brian