Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
In An American Childhood Dillard uses herself and her experiences growing up in Pittsburgh to examine the nature of American life. She claims that the book is not an autobiography but is rather a capturing of what it means for a child to come of age in the United States. Dillard seems to be uncomfortable with revealing information about herself; despite the fact that An American Childhood is intensely autobiographical, she denies that her purpose was to compose a memoir. Nevertheless, it is her account of her inward intellectual journey, offering incidents in her life through her mid-teenage years, the time Dillard says that the consciousness that directs her perceptions of the world as an adult was formed. She believes that it is as a child that one is truly alive, can feel most deeply, and is affected most strongly by experiences.
Perhaps Dillard feels compelled to attempt to escape the merely personal because she intends, as she says, to make a commentary on the universal nature of her experiences. Perhaps she also so strongly asserts the separation between her personal life and the life that she presents in this book because she is a genuinely private person. It is rare that Dillard gives interviews, does readings or lectures, or provides information about herself. She repeatedly insists that the personality of the writer is not what is important; rather, it is the ideas an individual conveys about the meaning of life, nature, and meaning that count and are what both readers and writers should pursue. She does not like the limelight because it takes away from the time she needs to read, reflect, and write. An American Childhood, then, offers readers a rare glimpse of the private side of Annie Dillard.
Her intention was to use...
(The entire section is 727 words.)
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