Author ORCID Identifier

Date of Award

Fall 12-11-2023

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Audrey Goodman

Second Advisor

H. Calvin Thomas

Third Advisor

Matthew Roudane


This dissertation challenges the stigma of mental illness by analyzing 20th century American life narratives written by persons with mental disorders. Focusing on the writing and lives of Zelda Fitzgerald, Allen Ginsberg, Mary Jane Ward, Kay Redfield Jamison, Meri Nana-Ama Danquah, Tennessee Williams, Elizabeth Wurtzel, Cameron West, and Susanna Kaysen, while applying the theories of Michel Foucault, Erving Goffman, Sigmund Freud, William C. Cockerham, and Otto F. Wahl, I contend mental illness life narratives fight stigmatization by questioning the common stereotypes perpetuated by dominant cultural narratives. Through a historical lens, the project explores a variety of sources from 20th-century American literature with complementary psychological and sociological theories in juxtaposition with my personal experiences of stigma in order to prove how dominant cultural narratives perpetuate the myths of mental illness, how mental illness life narratives raise awareness to social prejudices and encourage empathy within their audiences, and why mental illness life writers demand revisions to popular cultural representations of mental disorders. I argue mental illness life narratives foster understanding and inspire empathy, thus encouraging a social mindset change and an end to the stigma of mental illness.


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