Past in Use: Representations of Alienation and Violence in (Selected) Working-Class Memoirs

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D)


Literature and Languages

Date of Award

Summer 2012


The purpose of this dissertation is to examine the representations of alienation and violence in male working-class memoirs. Alienation associated with work is a growing concern in the United States due to the political unrest of the working class and the current recession. By examining worker's alienation and how that manifests into violence, I show a method for the study of alienation and how to better understand the problem. Worker alienation is a problem that can be properly addressed in the writing classroom once students recognize it as a feeling they have encountered at some point in their lives. In the memoirs that I examine, one way to combat labor estrangement is for the individual to learn from their past, their own personal history, and that of the profession, so as to insure that the worker actively learns from mistakes and does not repeat the cycle which will keep them in a continual alienated state. By examining how certain individuals were able to learn from their labor estrangement, I show how making use of one's past and discussing the ramifications of alienation can be a means to cope. Recognizing that alienation happened instead of resorting to violence allows the individual to successfully progress towards their goal instead of staying static. Once I reveal how certain workers learned from their background and job, I make the connection that alienation is not only a manual labor problem but one that is increasingly found in white-collar jobs. By providing a way to research alienation, research and discussion about the increasing problem can be performed. In addition writing about the experience, creating an account of the estrangement, can be a way to learn from the past.


Donna Dunbar-Odom

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities