510_sp09_hints: Possible questions -- as appropriate:
1. Does the autobiography have a stated or implicit purpose?
2. What is the supporting evidence for its authenticity or reliability?
3. What were the conditions of its composition, editing, publication, and subsequent revision?
4. How does the author define a sense of self or personal identity?
(Identity: pursuit or quest, didactic, unique individual or common group, generational conflict, ethnic dynamics, layers of discovery)
5. With what group does the author become identified -- aesthetic, philosophical, family, sexual, political, ethnic, ideological, geographic, demographic
6. What are the leading contextual factors to be considered in placing the autobiography in its historical context?
7. What other autobiographies does the author use as an explicit (or apparent) model? In turn, what did it influence?
Standard texts (Franklin, Oladah Equiano, Frederick Douglass, Thoreau, Harriet Jacobs, Mark Twain, Henry Adams, Booker T. Washington, Gertrude Stein, Lincoln Stephens, Malcolm X)
8. Does the autobiography have the characteristics of one or more standard types? (I.e., pattern, demographic, spiritual, worldly success, slave narrative, post-1865 African American, Native American, immigrant -- assimilation and ethnic rediscovery --, women, Jewish, Latino, Asian-American, creative arts, traumatic -- alcohol, drugs, sex. )
9. What are the defining characteristics of this autobiography? Diaries and journals have autobiographical aspects but are not usually narratives (John Winthrop, William Byrd). Memoirs are recollections, often of public events or incidents, without necessarily proving a coherent narrative. An autobiography may emphasize the private elements as in confessions (St Augustine, Rousseau, Jonathan Edwards), the social elements as in memoirs (Franklin, Ulysses S. Grant), or creative transformations into literary forms (Thoreau, Whitman). Autobiographical novels have been written by Dickens, Tolstoy, Louisa May Alcott, Samuel Butler, D. H. Lawrence, Jack London, James Joyce, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Céline, Henry Miller, Ralph Ellison, Jamed Baldwin, Saul Bellow,Jack Kerouac, Sylvia Plath, Maya Angelou, Robert Pirsig, Mohammed Ali, and foremost of all, Marcel Proust.
10. Are the author's other writings also autobiographical in nature? It is a common place that the autobiographical element is strongly present in American writers, such as Edward Taylor, Melville, Hawthorne, Whitman, Dickinson, Mark Twain, Kate Chopin, Sherwood Anderson, Richard Wright, Allen Ginsberg, Robert Lowell, and Norman Mailer, in addition to those mentioned above. Sometimes autobiographical material is found in unlikely places, such as Henry James’s prefaces to the New York edition of his novels (not just in his three volumes of autobiography).
11. Can this autobiography be used reliably in literary criticism, biography, or history? Does it suit the biographical premise affording a widely accepted and easy method of interpreting texts? .
12. Some autobiographies are not about an author writing about a self. In some cultures autobiography is the story of a group rather than an individual, as in spokesmen for traditional Native American tribes (also William Bradford, W. E. Dubois); conversely, some autobiographies are produced by collective interaction. In addition, Some autobiographies make use of language interpreters (19th century Native American autobiographies), or “as-told-to” collaborators (Alex Haley for Malcolm X), or even editors or ghost writers. Older autobiography was usually written down, and oral autobiographies were easily lost if not transcribed. Today the other media are supplementing print. The discipline of oral history depends on researchers’ encouraging their subjects to manufacture their autobiography in conversation captured on tape by audio or video recording. Some projects for children encourage the production of autobiographies through photography. The sound track of Ari Fulman’s 2008 animated film Waltz with Bashir consists of recorded conversations among Israeli war veterans as the recall an experience in Lebanon in 1982. Some researchers are exploring online autobiography in email and blogs.
13, What important literary and rhetorical models does the seem to follow apart from prior autobiographies?
14. What has been the nature of the reception of the work? Has it been largely textual (modernist) or contextual (postmodernist)?