Degree Name

Master of Arts in English (M.A.)

Type of Paper/Work



Advisor: Thomas B. Connery; Second Reader: Michael Bellamy; Third Reader: Mary Reichardt.


In Joe Gould’s Secret (1964), the celebrated nonfiction writer Joseph Mitchell--a man of serious and far-ranging interests--devoted himself, at the peak of his literary powers, to chronicling his relationship with an idiosyncratic street person whose only claim to recognition was fraudulent. Most commentators believe that Mitchell saw a reflection of his own career as an author in Joe Gould. This essay proposes another reason for Mitchell’s preoccupation with Gould. Drawing on theories of narration by Frank Kermode and Walter Benjamin, this essay argues that an understanding of the act of writing as a staving-off of death is key to understanding Mitchell’s project in his last book. The essay explores this theme in Joe Gould's Secret and in Mitchell’s preceding books. Joe Gould's Secret reveals itself as a consideration of death as conceived by Mitchell's highly literate imagination and, as such, as the culmination of a career-long quest to engage with mortality.


The New Yorker, New Yorker, Professor Sea Gull, Greenwich Village, The Village

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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.