The Ethics of Working Class Autobiography: Representation of Family by Four American Authors

Paperback / softback
The ethical aspect of autobiography is a relatively new field of study. No longer simply the story of the author's life, an autobiography also reveals a great deal about the way the author views himself as well as the people around him. Autobiography recounts a transformation in the author, a significant life event that is somehow worthy of expression. With this in mind, such a personal work must be read with an element of caution since it represents not so much the literal truth as the author's perception of people and events, an observation sometimes unflattering to those portrayed. Focusing on the ethics of autobiography, this volume analyzes the works of four writers who spent much of their youth in working-class circumstances yet became highly educated intellectual professionals. It examines the way in which each author confronts his working-class past, sometimes - perhaps unintentionally - diminishing the dignity of their working-class family members in the process. The texts discussed are: Growing Up by Russell Baker (1982), Brothers and Keepers by John Edgar Wideman (1984), A Woman in Amber by Agate Nesaule (1995) and Clear Springs by Bobbie Ann Mason (1999). In addition to representing different times, each work recounts the author's struggle with a particular societal element such as gender, race, class division or regional identity. While Baker manages to present a fairly balanced view of his past, Wideman, Nesaule and Mason each have a decidedly negative perception of their working-class families. An overview of biographical trends and a brief survey regarding the critical reception of each work is included. The book is also indexed.