An American Childhood is a memoir written by Annie Dillard about her childhood in Pittsburgh. The memoir begins just after the Second World War when Annie is five years of age. It ends just before the Cold War when she is eighteen.
Annie Doak is a vibrant, intelligent, and curious child who wants to know everything she can about the world. She expresses a lofty goal in the memoir:
I wanted to notice everything, as Holmes had, and remember it all, as no one had before.
She reads lots of books and studies everything from history, literature, arts, sciences, and sport. Her parents call her a little ‘Miss Know-It-All’. Annie Dillard, looking back, says she has to agree with them. Annie was an independent child and as she matures she becomes an independent young woman.
Annie’s mother, Pam, is a kind and caring woman who finds joy in the little things. She is curious and adventurous and gives Annie the freedom to be herself. She also teaches her children to be kind and empathetic to their fellow human beings. Pam does not follow all of the conventions expected of women at that time, and of her social class. For example, she champions the rights of the poor and lower classes. But, although she is happy to rebel in her own small way she knows where her boundaries lie.
Annie holds her mother in high regard and wants to be like her. However, Annie can see that, as a woman, her mother is held back from being who she truly wants to be, and she doesn't want to be a woman with the same restrictions forced upon her.