An American Childhood Essay - Critical Essays

Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction An American Childhood Analysis

Dillard chose to write a book of reflections and memories, some of which were published elsewhere first. Through fluid, often rhapsodic prose she creates a fully developed character whose highly charged precocity and sensitivity affirm human potential and significance. Although written for an adult audience, the book speaks to young adults in its subject matter and tone.

An American Childhood leaves no doubt as to what makes life matter. Dillard loved her parents with her whole heart, and they gave her love, security, and a passion for knowing. Her father cultivated the scientist part of herself: He engaged her natural curiosity; encouraged collecting, sorting, labeling, and experimenting; and explained the intricacies of technology. Her mother nurtured the artist within, the interior self “where the life of the senses mingles with the life of the spirit,” by giving her freedom and modeling a heightened sense of moral principle and anticon-formity. Dillard dedicates her book to both parents.

It was Pittsburgh that gave Dillard roots, and though she describes an occasional excursion to Florida, Pittsburgh is at the center of the book. It is where she lives, moves, and discovers her being. She pronounces it “a great town to grow up in.” More than people and place, however, it was books that shaped Dillard’s life. Initially, the visible world piqued her curiosity and sent her to the neighborhood library, where she was soon given adult privileges of choice. Books introduced her to more natural wonders, which in turn propelled her back to the world. Her appetite was voracious—she...

(The entire section is 663 words.)