Over the 10 weeks I have been learning about what an autobiography is and other things as well. (In my opinion, an autobiography entails someone’s life story from the time they can remember up until present day, and is written and edited by that person). During this course I was assigned to read several passages, and I was trying to determine whether or not they were autobiographies. One passage that comes to mind is by author V. S. Pritchett, Writing an Autobiography. After reading this I had a better understanding of what an autobiography should entail. The last passage that I read caught me by surprise because I really had to concentrate on key phrases, or sentences that helped me understand that it was an autobiography. John Neihardt, the author of, Black Elk Speaks, could be interpreted as something else rather than an autobiography, because Black Elk didn’t write it. Black Elk told the story to his son Ben Black Elk. Who then translated It in English to John Neihardt, and his daughter to record.
After doing research on line about the book Black Elk Speaks, I noticed that there was a lot of controversy about the author of the book. Which entailed whether or not the book actually was written word for word that came out of Ben Blacks mouth? The primary argument made is that Neihardt, being the author and the editor, was able to exaggerate or change some parts of the story. He did so to make the story more palatable and marketable to a white audience in the 1930s. When I was reading through this book I found myself questioning numerous times, whether or not this truly was an autobiography or if it was something else. (I say this because throughout the book there are other tribe members that
I know that an autobiography is one’s life story written by the author, and is narrated by them as well. I now know that there can be exceptions to that rule because of the circumstances of language barriers, or being illiterate, I also understand why there was so much controversy with John Neihardt and his book, Black Elk Speaks. (Maybe he knew that if he were to change facts he would sell more books and it would help his finances.
The pure autobiographer is concerned with shaping a past from the standpoint of a present that may be totally unlike it. That is why you tore up those 20 pages and paused to consider who your first-person singular is and what “truth” you intend to state. For there is no absolute truth. You will be unable to tell all or you will be incapable of it. Or let us hope that you are, for one definition of a bore is that he is a man who tells you everything. (“V. S. Pritchett. Writing an Autobiography 381”).
This goes without saying that an autobiography should be convincing and believable. Over time you tend to forget the past, especially you adolescent years. When you are writing an autobiography keep it within reason, and not just make up something to fill in blank. Your difficulties with truth-telling arise from the fossilization of memory. The longer one lives, the less certain one is of who one is. “(382).”
I was under the impression that the term autobiography has the same definition across the board, but I have come to realize that there are other definitions. I believe that a lot of the time a memoir is easily mistaken for an autobiography. A memoir is written by whomever it is about, but only covers one chapter in his or her life.
V. S. Pritchett: “Writing an Autobiography,” reprinted from Page 2, ed. Francis Brown. (New York: Holt, Rhinehart & Winston, Inc., 1969). Copyright by V.S. Pritchett. Reprinted by permission of Harold Matson Co., Inc.