Memoirs of Life in South Africa

English 162: Literature and Place (A Queens College Study Abroad Course)

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Blog #4

January 12th, 2012 by Merzela · No Comments · Uncategorized

What’s tricky about autobiography? (Be sure to offer concrete examples.)

Autobiographies although usually taken as truth must be approached with an air of skepticism. The fact of the matter is that our memories are not always accurate and we do not remember everything that has ever happened in our lives; we in fact, have selective memory. For example, I have a vague memory of falling in front of my grandfather’s house and being cut by something that led to a huge scar on my leg when I was no older than 4 or 5 years old. I remember him coming out of the house, picking me up and putting me on a table in his house to clean my leg that was dripping with blood. This memory has always stuck with me but after telling it a couple of times someone pointed out to me that my story had changed over the years. This person was right. Sometimes, I said it was not my grandfather who picked me up but a family friend. Sometimes I said I blocked out from the sight of my bloody leg and other times I have said that I was awake for the whole thing and that I cried hysterically from the pain. As you can see, my memory of this incident is not always accurate and at this point I do not know which version of the story is in fact accurate.

With autobiographies, this is also a problem. The person behind the narrative may remember an incident but their memory of the incident is likely to become foggy especially if the incident happened years before they actually write the autobiography. Moreover autobiographies usually have an objective and depending on the objective, certain memories or included or excluded. In other words, autobiographies are one sided and are coming from the perspective of one person. Since autobiographies most often include people other then the author, this one sided view becomes problematic. The reader then, does not get the story of the writer’s life but instead his/her fragmented pieces of memories that he/she believes to be relevant to his/her life. Autobiographies are inherently biased. What’s a reader to do? Read and question everything!

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