This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

The Outlaw Rhetoric of Hunter S. Thompson: Emerging Rhetorical Themes in Journalism




Reid, Christopher Neal

Type of Degree

Master's Thesis


Communication and Journalism


This thesis will explore the genre of outlaw rhetoric through the lens of the early letters of Hunter S. Thompson, who constructed the persona of outlaw journalist and helped create the genre in the process. Using Thompson’s first volume of letters, The Proud Highway: Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman 1955-1967, this project will detail the characteristics, functions, and form of outlaw journalism, show how they are intertwined, and provide examples of the attributes at work. Those functions: (1) identifying the rhetor as a defiant victim, (2), presenting the rhetor as a outlier, and (3) using exaggeration and absurdity to achieve those aims served Thompson well during his prolific career, and he stands as an example of the genre personified to its maximum potential. In order to achieve these functions, Thompson relied on a form that included (1) using victimization vernacular when referring to the rhetor, (2), exemplifying the outlier role via his constructed persona, and (3) employing dynamic and brazen hyperbole to escalate a situation into the absurd realm. The components of the form allowed Thompson to use the functions to serve his goals, which as an outlaw journalist included spotlighting oppression, hypocrisy and wrongdoing while holding leaders of hegemonic power structures accountable for their actions and misdeeds. Many of Thompson’s works have been examined and scrutinized in years past, but this project is novel because of its use of that early volume of letters, as well as for its connection of the writer’s construction of persona to the genre of outlaw journalism.