Defining the Autobiography

Defining the Autobiography

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Defining the Autobiography

  In a lecture on autobiography, Diane Howard states, "The focus of autobiographical writing and performing is on subjective questions, struggles, and representations" (Howard 1).” “Autobiography is a broad term that lends itself to a variety of meanings and intentions.” There are many differences between autobiographies, especially along gender lines.” Women tend to write about different subjects than men do. Despite subjectivity and differences, there are similarities that make autobiography an autobiography.” The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines autobiography as "the biography of a person narrated by himself".” This is a vague definition that does not delve into the common similarities found among many autobiographies that separates them from other forms of writing.


Author of The Forms of Autobiography, William C. Spengemann writes "an autobiography had to offer an at least ostensibly factual account of the writerís own life" (Spengemann 1).” The inclusion of fact in autobiography is what makes the writing valid.” In her introduction to Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, Eleanor Roosevelt writes, "the young are not afraid of telling the truth;" the entire diary offers an honest account of her persona, family life as well as details of WWII. (Frank xiii).” Autobiography needs to be truthful in its intention, and therefore a diary can be a good source of truth.” Facts are a fairly important aspect of the success of autobiography.


Despite the importance of factual truth, emotional truth also makes autobiographical writing credible.” The very last line of Anne Frankís Diary says "Will the reader take into consideration that when this story was written the writer had not cooled down from her fury!" (Frank 94).” This statement suggests that the events she just narrated are not factually correct, however, they are emotionally honest.” In her autobiographical essay, "How It Feels To Be Colored Me", Zora Neale Hurston speaks of Jazz in emotional terms as "Music. The great blobs of purple and red emotion" (Hurston 387).” In the midst of her Jazz frenzy, Hurston is "in the jungle and living in the jungle way.” My face is painted red and yellow and my body is painted blue.” My pules is throbbing like a war drum" (Hurston 387).” Hurstonís blobs of color are not necessarily factual, but they are an attempt to convey honest emotion.

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Zora Neale Hurstonís emotion is that of wanting to break free and contrastingly Anne Frankís was an angry emotion.” Even though the two are different, they both still convey the same message that emotion is what effects how vividly the factual information will be portrayed.


Autobiographies are also based on a writerís personal philosophies.” Cherrie Moraga writes that "I was educated and wore a keen sense of pride and satisfaction "born with the features of my Chicana mother, but the skin of my Anglo father, I had it made" (Moraga 51).” Since Moraga has so much pride in her roots and her family, she will speak mainly on that topic because it is what interests her most.” Benjamin Franklin writes "expecting the enjoyment of a weekís uninterrupted leisure in my present country retirement, I sit down to write them for you" (Franklin 3).” Benjamin Franklin has an interest in himself and his accomplishments and will therefore be concerned with writing about what he went through in his early life to become the figure everyone knows today.” Although only a few of the similarities among autobiographies have been listed, there are many more to explore and consider.



Dickson, Lynne. "Writing the Self: Autobiography and Hypertext." January Interim 1998.”

Frank, Anne. Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl. pp. xiii, 94.

Franklin, Benjamin.” "Autobiography". p. 3.

Howard, Diane.”"Autobiographical Writing and Presenting: Value and Definition."“

Hurston, Zora Neale.” "How It Feels To Be Colored Me." p. 387.

Moraga, Cherrie.” "It Is You, My Sister, Who Must Be Protected."“ Loving in the War Years.” p. 51.

Spengemann, William C.” The Forms of Autobiography.” p. 1.
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