In India, Mohandas K. Gandhi’s autobiography is seen as a Western preoccupation because autobiography writing is done by those in the West, not in the East. However, the work is a candid and humble account that illuminates the moral and spiritual side of an extraordinary leader. Gandhi’s book is solidly rooted in a historical context that spans forty years of his life in the India of the 1870’s to the 1920’s, without, however, being bound by such specificity. This is because it is not a simple chronicle but a quest for ways of attaining Absolute Truth. Interweaving details of his life, historical and political incidents, and his personal philosophy of conduct, Gandhi is able to present different planes of experience. Gandhi exploits his eclectic reading—the Bhagavad Gita, the Qur’an, the Bible, works by Sir Edwin Arnold, John Ruskin, Leo Tolstoy, and the Theosophists—in order to develop his own approach to solving social, political, and moral problems, particularly those issuing from imperial colonialism, the Indian caste system, and humanity’s own disposition toward corruption. However, Gandhi’s tone is never pompous, aggressive, or rigid. The story of his life is narrated dispassionately, for he wants to appeal to youth as well as to adults.
In the introduction, Gandhi acknowledges that the true purpose of his autobiography is self-realization in order to attain moksha (freedom from birth and death), the Hindu version of salvation. Accordingly, although he chronicles his social and political ventures, he tends to view them in spiritual or moral terms that are subjective but absolutely correct, for, as he asserts, he would not base actions on his beliefs if these were not convincingly justified to himself.