Charles Mingus's autobiographical book, Beneath the Underdog, details his involvement with jazz, offers his view of life as a black American, and reveals some of the history of jazz from his point of view and through his experiences. The title of the book gives the general tenor of the work--he sees himself as beneath the underdog, meaning that he is even lower on the scale than those who are seen as at a disadvantage in our society. The story told by Mingus shows that he has been faced throughout his life with a sense of being on the lower end of the social scale; indeed, more than this, he has been so subjected to punishments, indignities, and discrimination that he seems to have come to expect it.
Mingus's attitude toward himself is revealed in the opening paragraph, a statement delivered to his psychiatrist during a session:
In other words I am three. One man stands forever in the middle, unconcerned, unmoved, watching, waiting to be allowed to express what he sees in the other two. The second man is like a frightened animal that attacks for fear of being attacked. Then there is an over-loving gentle person who lets people into the uttermost sacred temple of his being. . . and when he realizes what's been done to him he feels like killing and destroying everything around him including himself for being so stupid (7).
It is the middle man who sets out to write this book, the observer who wants to report on the other two, but often it seems that the third figure emerges and vents his anger at the injustices and indignities of life. This middle man keeps up his role of observer by speaking of himself, Mingus, in the third person. He details his early life referring to himself as "my boy." The effect is to place a certain distance between himself and his childhood, perhaps showing that memories of that time are too painful. Later in the book he shifts from first to third person, showing that he remains a divided p...