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What is the significance of the autobiography "An American Childhood", by...

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aura-tiy | eNotes Newbie

Posted June 4, 2008 at 3:13 AM via web

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What is the significance of the autobiography "An American Childhood", by Annie Dillard?

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lit24 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Valedictorian

Posted June 6, 2008 at 2:09 AM (Answer #2)

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Literary Significance: Annie Dillard's "An American Childhood" (1987) belongs to the literary tradition of 'memoirs'  which was very popular in the 80s. Other important memoirs of this period were Russell Baker's "Growing Up" 1982 and Eudora Welty "One Writer's Beginnings" 1984.

Formal Significance: Annie Dillard chronicles the internal details rather than the external details of her life. Her account is unconventional in that it is not strictly chronological, but rather impressionsitic and lyrical like Charles Lamb's "Essays of Elia."

Significance of Content: More than the incidents which took place in her life it is the intellectual awakening (The Epiphany)  and those elements which contributed to it which are emphasised in her autobiography: "I awoke at intervals until....I was more often awake than not." and "I woke in bits, like all children, piecemeal over the years."

Contextual Significance: The word  "American" in the title contextualises and reflects her intellectual awakenings with that of the American nation in the 50s and the 60s. The young Annie possesses the energy and optimism of postwar America of the 50s which soon turns to doubt and rebellion of the 60s as she enters adolescence. Thus  in her autobiography her native Pittsburgh becomes the chronotope where the personal and the national (public) are amalgamated.

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