How might one best evaluate author Ernest J. Gaines's style in The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman?
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Published in the early 1970's, this work of historical fiction is probably best described as a blend of oral history and slave narrative and has been categorized as Southern fiction and/or African-American fiction. Gaines opens his story with a high school history teacher attempting to teach his students how history has affected real people. The teacher wonders if perhaps using Miss Jane Pittman's experiences, might accomplish this goal. Miss Pittman is 110 years old and has lived through the Civil War of the 1860's through the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960's.
Gaines created fictional characters to make the history more personal; the editor/interviewer/high school teacher and Miss Jane are both fictitious, as is the Louisiana county which is the setting for this story, and most of his other written works. In fact, the strength of historical fiction often lies in the ability of a good writer to include a vast amount of history simply by setting his characters against the backdrop and then making the reader care about the characters. Once the reader cares about the characters, it is more likely that he or she will come to care about the events that are acting upon said characters' lives.
The genre and style Gaines structured allowed him to capture regional dialect, local color, and details of Southern life that some have suggested could rival William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway, authors who Gaines admired, and whose influence is not hard to find in Gaines's work.
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