Last Updated on September 9, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1000
Annie Dillard begins An American Childhood in a way that takes the focus entirely off herself. Rather than jumping right in to memories of her childhood, she instead reflects on America—specifically, the topography of Pittsburgh, where most of her memoir takes place. In this short first section of the prologue, she describes Pittsburgh’s landscape and skyline along with a bit of American history. Each new section of An American Childhood begins as such, with a wider picture than Dillard’s individual life, hinting that the book is about something larger than her.
After this idyllic beginning to her memoir, the second chapter of the prologue comes across as rather sudden, as readers are thrown into Dillard’s story. The chapter’s beginning is made even more blunt by the fact that the first memory Dillard recounts is when she is ten years old, whereas the actual memoir begins when she is five. Readers are plunged into the middle of Dillard’s childhood so that Dillard can set up a motif that she uses to frame the entire book: her father’s fascination with New Orleans and decision to travel there by riverboat. She mentions specifically her father’s love for New Orleans jazz, which she returns to in the epilogue.
While Dillard names specific events in her childhood, such as when she began attending dancing school or when her father left for New Orleans, she tends to divide her life into stages of her “interior life” rather than actual events. One of the ways she tells her story is by tracing the development of her consciousness—a theme she establishes in the prologue. At the age of ten, Dillard is just beginning to “wake up” and discover topics that will fascinate her for years, such as geology and biology. When Dillard returns to her ten-year-old self later in the memoir, readers better understand this concept of “waking up” and that Dillard is gaining consciousness of herself. She realizes that she exists in time, just like the people, places, and objects around her.
Fittingly, then, the youngest version of Dillard that readers are exposed to is five—that is, when she first begins to experience this revelation. She describes her childhood self as “mindless”; she is ignorant of herself, observing only the world outside of her, unconscious of her place in it. However, she soon begins to alternate between “being,” or losing herself in her studies of the world around her, and “knowing you be,” or seeing herself in addition and in relation to the world around her. This dynamic reaches its climax in her adolescence, at which point she can no longer forget herself. As a teenager, she longs to lose herself in the world as she did as a child—but try as she might, she is “in [her] own way,” fully self-conscious.
The way Dillard recounts the story of her childhood reflects this theme of coming in and out of self-consciousness; Dillard frequently draws her readers into close examinations of her childhood interests. In these detailed descriptions of Dillard’s parents’ skin, a child ice-skating in the street, and rock collections, the reader is frequently taken out of Dillard’s narrative and permitted to see the world as Dillard saw it in her unconscious moments. In passages like the first chapter of each section, which Dillard begins with histories of places or philosophic contemplations, the reader can forget momentarily that the memoir is about Dillard, just as Dillard as a child frequently lost sight of herself in observing the world around her.
Dillard also divides her story into stages by her childhood interests and awareness of the world. As Dillard’s consciousness matures and as she is less able to lose herself in the world around her, her knowledge and awareness of the world expands. It begins small, with her observations of the kitchen, household daily life, her hands, and her parents’ skin. She then begins to explore her neighborhood by walking and biking, and the boundaries of her world expand. When she takes to reading, her world grows infinitely, and she explores other places and times than those of the suburban Pittsburgh life she has lived thus far. The expansion of the boundaries of Dillard’s world is completed in the epilogue, in which Dillard writes of her preparations for college, when she will break free of Pittsburgh and travel to new places herself, like her father once did in attempting to sail to New Orleans.
Part 3 of the memoir is shorter than the other sections, and it ends abruptly. It mainly addresses Dillard’s teenage life and ends just before she goes to college. Dillard doesn’t write much about college at all—only that she has been assigned to a college by the headmistress of her school and likes the campus. Although this might leave readers curious about Dillard’s college experiences and later life, it is appropriate for the book: the “childhood” from the memoir’s title has ended, and she has moved on to a new era of her life. She returns in the epilogue to her father’s fascination with New Orleans jazz, wondering in the last sentence if the music in New Orleans will be loud enough—if the life she will find in college and beyond will contain enough excitement to satisfy her desire for a passionate and thrilling life.
Dillard’s “American Childhood” is not one that every American child experiences; she has financial stability, parents that love her, a private school education, and frequent vacations with a wealthy grandmother. However, An American Childhood is not so much a chronicle of Dillard’s individual life events as it is an exploration of the various stages of consciousness any person moves through while growing up. Because she emphasizes the development of consciousness in childhood and adolescence instead of her own story, Dillard’s childhood is one that many can relate to.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 610
In An American Childhood, Annie Dillard does not provide the young adult reader with a chronological history of childhood adventures and experiences, though some are included. There is no continuous narrative and no actual plot. Rather, Dillard renders a vivid account of the growth of a mind, of a self. Through a short prologue, the author introduces the two main ingredients of her story: setting and self-consciousness. Pittsburgh, as setting, functions more like a major character with a history, topology, and personality, its importance underscored by the inclusion of an early Pittsburgh map. At the age of ten, when her father set off on a river journey to New Orleans, Dillard awakened to an extraordinary consciousness that informs all the book.
In part 1, Dillard takes the reader back to 1950 and early childhood. Hers was a privileged childhood. The oldest of three children, the author grew up in an affluent home that afforded her a private education, as well as training in art, dance, and music. Her parents were wonderfully eccentric people. Her father loved acting, finger-snapping loud music, and fast dancing; her mother taught her children both to curtsy and to play poker, and she liked to shock the world with her outrageous pranks. Both parents prized and polished the fine art of telling and remembering jokes, but they were also highly cultured and provided a rich and nurturing environment for their children.
For Dillard, that environment included the neighborhood. Before she learned to read, she walked, explored, and memorized her neighborhood like a mapmaker. She prided herself on never getting lost, and the forested ravines and streams of Frick Park on the outskirts of that neighborhood provided inexhaustible nourishment to the child’s natural curiosity and imagination. Dillard also enjoyed playing football and baseball with older boys, learned to whistle, and at age seven fell in love with a fourth-grade redhead, an unrequited love that lasted for two years.
Part 2 constitutes nearly half the number of pages in the book and roughly covers the period from ages ten to fifteen. Young Dillard’s interior life, which had been growing, now expanded and filled, especially when she awakened to “the world’s wealth of information. I was reading books on drawing, painting, rocks, criminology, birds, moths, beetles, stamps, ponds and streams, medicine.” Through the microscope, she discovered hidden wonders in a drop of urine or a scummy drop of Frick Park puddle water. Through four years of church camp and regular church attendance, she discovered the beauty and power of transcendent truths, as well as the superficiality and hypocrisy of fellow churchgoers. At the age of thirteen, puberty catches up with her. She discovers that the boys of childhood have grown into gods. Rocks, insects, exotic birds, and the Morse code still fascinate, but dances at the country club now are also wonderful.
In part 3, adolescence and its untamed feelings hit hard. For hours, Dillard would whip her bed with a belt, trying to rid herself of this unsettling wildness. School became a bore, drag racing a pleasure. She took up smoking and was suspended from school. She quit the church. Nevertheless, she did not quit reading. Through books, she continued to pursue what she had always sought: “depth of thought and feeling, some call to courage originality, genius, rapture, hope.” She made plans for college because learning remained a passion.
An American Childhood ends with an epilogue in which Dillard as mature adult reflects briefly on growing up in Pittsburgh in the 1950’s, “in a house full of comedians, reading books.” Both influences led to an intense affirmation of life as an inexhaustible stimulant for body, mind, and spirit.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 534
With An American Childhood, Annie Dillard, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (1974), has written an eloquent account of her youth in Pittsburgh. The book covers the years from her birth until her departure for Hollins College in Virginia, yet its form is not that of a traditional autobiography. There are few references to dates or chronological details in Dillard’s portrait of her childhood; rather, the book is a series of vivid impressions and recollections which assume a loosely chronological order as her life unfolds. Its five sections—three parts, a prologue, and an epilogue—divide her childhood into three segments, the first ending when she is ten, the second covering early adolescence, and the third carrying her through her high school years.
The child of well-to-do parents and the eldest of three sisters, Dillard was born in 1945. An American Childhood recalls the people, the events, and the driving intellectual curiosity that shaped Dillard’s early years. An exceptionally bright child, Dillard discovered the world of books at an early age. Seized at intervals by passions for subjects as varied as rock collecting, drawing, insects, and the French and Indian War, she explored them with the aid of her local branch library—and now shares them in detail with her reader. For Dillard, the story of her youth is the story of her intellectual awakening, and she brings it to life with an immediacy that captures the joy she herself felt as she experienced it.
Although the outward trappings of her life—family, school, friends—seem ordinary enough, Dillard’s world is stimulated by her parents, Pam and Frank Doak, an intelligent, outspoken couple with interests and idiosyncrasies that fascinate their children. Frank Doak is a businessman whose love of jazz and Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi (1883) leads him to quit his job when Annie is ten and set off alone down the Ohio River in his boat, bound for New Orleans. He and Annie share a taste for dancing and the poetry of Jack Kerouac. His wife is witty and high-spirited, an expert joke teller who enjoys a silent rivalry with her mother-in-law, lectures Annie on the evils of racism, and challenges her daughters whenever they express an opinion she believes is not their own.
In this upper-middle-class household, marked by private schools, dancing lessons, and summers at the lake with Annie’s grandparents, there is a streak of expressive originality that sparks Annie’s own imagination and encourages a young child with a thirst for knowledge to pursue her interests as far as they will carry her. As the family’s two changes of address expand her knowledge of her immediate physical world, so, too, does Annie’s voracious reading broaden and deepen her grasp of the world beyond her Pittsburgh neighborhood. In her teenage years, she becomes restless and eager to break through the boundaries of the life she knows. Bored with the routine of school, she is moody and furious, shaken deeply by the nameless anger that so often accompanies adolescence. An American Childhood leaves her on the brink of adulthood, anticipating her departure for college and filled with splendid, epic dreams for her future.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 572
Writing about childhood and consciousness, Annie Dillard reveals in An American Childhood a pattern to her early life that clearly formed her as a writer. Growing up the eldest of three girls with loving, indulgent parents in comfortable, postwar Pittsburgh, she perceives herself as being able to feel alive from the inside, a quality she learned to recognize by vast amounts of reading. While those around her believed in Pittsburgh society, Dillard found alternative worlds through long hours spent reading all sorts of books. An American Childhood begins with small adventures in her early childhood, culminating in major teenage rebellions that leave even her understanding parents bewildered and distraught. All through her narrative, Dillard equates this feeling of distinctiveness with “waking up.”
Childhood is when one first notices that one is alive, suggests Dillard. Therefore, she writes about the self-consciousness of children, using herself as an example. She equates her skills at classifying the elements from nature (such as butterflies), acquired as a youth, with the skills required of her as an autobiographer—analyzing and classifying the experiences from her past. Although she has claimed that she learned a good many things about herself and her family in writing the book, she put none of it in because she is not the subject. An American Childhood is not a book about how Dillard became who she is. She crafted the memories deliberately as a book. The origins of her writer’s life result from this pattern of interest in the inner life set against the outer world, concretely set for her in Pittsburgh.
Dillard views her early life much in the way she views the natural world: as elements coming alive right before her eyes. Calling on an activity-filled background, from drawing to the study of plants, rocks, and insects, she records a life rich with experience. Her approach to life is as organic and self-conscious as each individual narrative, with an emphasis on the convergence of past and present selves. Each section is an individual memoir about one element of her intellectual history, providing an ontology but also recording her interest in the natural world. These narratives are carefully selected to show the pattern of development, not only of events but of insight as well, over those ten or eleven years of her childhood. Her diction and syntax often reflect the transfiguration of these events from the material world into the visionary.
Beginning with a prologue which is both a narrative of Pittsburgh’s history and a memoir of her father, An American Childhood follows a roughly chronological order of events. Dillard’s observations alternate between deeply meditative moments of self-discovery and warmly drawn portraits of family members, mostly her mother and father. The epilogue returns to the dichotomy between inner life and outer world first suggested by the prologue, being at once a meditation on the dreaminess of place and an intimate portrait of her father, taking the reader up to the present moment of writing this book. With her form (a dreamlike landscape) and her tone (ironic and detached), Dillard creates a memoir of her girlhood which through its metaphysical prose shows mystery and contradiction to be a part of every aspect of life. She “wakes up” and finds herself in a place that already existed; it remains a mystery that this world went on without her. Yet she had to leave that life in order to record it.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 251
Annie Dillard won the Pulitzer Prize at age thirty for her first prose book, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (1974). Her autobiographical work An American Childhood observes one woman’s life with the same priorities of the natural scientist as the earlier book. Although such writers as Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Virginia Woolf, Anaïs Nin, and Maxine Hong Kingston had previously written autobiographical works chronicling their lives as women writers, Dillard’s work was widely praised as an “American” childhood—an inward and intellectual history, not specifically an American woman’s intellectual history. Dillard suggests that in examining the small but powerful dramas of one’s childhood, one finds those moments of self-awareness without regard to gender.
Her dissatisfaction with the inequities, the unquestioned codes of her social landscape forced her—as a highly-conscious, well-read, spirited young woman—to leave her childhood landscape behind. While other people saw in her “rough edges” that needed smoothing, she wanted a can opener to cut herself a hole in the world’s surface and exit through it. Dillard’s work does have its detractors in those who argue that she cares more about the intellectual life than the physical or bodily life of a woman, or that in her drive to establish her childhood as American she glosses over the physical distinctiveness of female development. Other critics point out that as a study of the childhood of a natural scientist, An American Childhood sorts, catalogs, and examines the author’s life in the most appropriate way.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2291
Annie Dillard is still best known for her 1974 Pulitzer Prize-winning classic, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. Even though most of her subsequent books have treated spiritual and mystical themes (sometimes to the exclusion of the natural world), the public views her as a “nature writer.” Both her visionary probings of nature and her explorations of Christian mysticism shed much light on her latest work, a first autobiographical volume, An American Childhood.
The title is ironic. It implies an averageness and typicality which in fact was not Dillard’s lot. Born and reared in Pittsburgh, of a white, Protestant, upper-middle-class family, part of the elite of the city, she knew little about ethnic diversity, working-class poverty, or racial tension. She had two younger sisters, a father who was a business executive, and a mother who did not work “outside the home.” There was a black maid and a boat, and the children were sent to private schools, weekly dancing classes, and the elite Presbyterian church.
Yet Dillard was not even a typical aristocrat. Her writing and, more important, her perception of childhood, may be unique in American letters. She will take a usual occupation of a ten-year-old—drawing or rock collecting, for example—and delve deeply into herself as that child, so that the occupation is no longer typical but uniquely her own. She writes, “When you pry open the landscape, you find wonders.” That sentence could be an epigraph for all Dillard’s life and work.
Moreover, the unique intensity of Dillard’s experiencing of her own life places her in a position far above the average. The dust jacket says, “Dillard’s ecstatic interest in the world begins here in childhood.” The word “ecstatic” describes Dillard’s work perfectly. The Greek origin of “ecstasy” is “a being put out of its place”; the word also means a trance or “overpowering religious emotion or rapture.” “Ecstasy” is one of a series of words with religious overtones that Dillard often uses: “passionate,” “exultant,” “enthusiastic,” “ecstatic”—all these describe the young girl’s attitude toward the world and life. The very vocabulary underscores the theme of all Dillard’s work—the spiritual pilgrimage, the mystic quest.
Dillard’s autobiography is centered on two contradictory processes: coming to conscious awareness and the periodic ecstasies of transcending self and losing consciousness in the glory of experience. The excitement derives not from losing identity but rather from gaining consciousness after having lost it. Ironically, if one is awake and conscious all the time, one cannot have the ecstatic experience of coming to consciousness. It is Dillard’s thesis that children come to consciousness gradually, and this process is a visionary and passionate one. At ten, says Dillard, “I noticed this process of waking, and predicted with terrifying logic that one of these years not far away I would be awake continuously and never slip back, and never be free of myself again.” Thus Dillard’s mission is to continue to awaken to consciousness, to capture the sensation of aliveness one has in standing under a waterfall or seeing an amoeba in the microscope. Recalling Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, the project is to continue to be open to moments of pure transcendence, as when—while patting a puppy in the gas station—she watches the sun break through the clouds on Mount Rogers. One recalls also her describing “the tree with lights in it” that the newly sighted recount.
In order to live in this way, one must learn to notice. All creative conceptual work begins in the same place, with noticing, and Dillard the scientist, the philosopher, the poet, and the artist learns early its craft. As a child, she sketches the same baseball mitt every day for a month, memorizes faces and makes police artist drawings, painstakingly identifies and catalogs 340 rock specimens, memorizes “miles” of Bible verses (whose rhythms sing in her head as she writes poetry), and finds one-celled animals in pond water with her microscope. Her pun on the process is pure Dillard: “One took note; one took notes.” She concludes near the end of the book in a sentence-paragraph typical of her style. She gives the general point, then a long series of detailed descriptors, the whole ending with a philosophical, often epigrammatic thought to ponder:It all got noticed: the horse’s shoulders pumping; sunlight warping the air over a hot field; the way leaves turn color, brightly, cell by cell; and even the splitting, half-resigned and half-astonished feeling you have when you notice you are walking on earth for a while now—set down for a spell—in this particular time for no particular reason, here.
The structure of the book complements the double theme of consciousness and self-consciousness. The prologue has two main sections. The first is a lyrically historical overview of Pittsburgh’s topology that ends with the first settlers (“tall men and women lay exhausted in their cabins, sleeping in the sweetness, worn out from planting corn”). The second introduces her father and juxtaposes the many Pittsburgh suicides her father watched from his high office window with his quitting his job to sail down the Ohio River on a small boat. Part 1 of An American Childhood encompasses Dillard’s early childhood memories; it closes when she is ten, “awake now forever.” Part 2 is the center of the book and covers the wonderful preadolescent years of ecstasy—consciousness and self-consciousness together. Dillard describes here her various passions—from baseball to reading to learning to tell jokes to bicycling all over the city.
A crucial thematic anecdote—her attempt to fly—reveals much about Dillard’s method. Her desire to fly is, she realizes, quite mad: She is old enough to know better but also old enough to know about faith, belief, and miracles. She is, she says, “exultant.” The word “exultant” comes from the Latin, meaning “to leap for joy.” What is astonishing about the preadolescent Dillard is that she is sometimes so joyful that she feels like leaping out of her skin; she is always on the verge of levitation. So she tries to fly: running down the main street, arms outstretched, heart pounding, knowing she will not be able to do this and doing it anyway, rapturous, exultant. She passes people who will think her a fool but does not care; she sees a woman who meets her gaze and seems to understand; finally she slows to a walk. “So Teresa of Avila checked her unseemly joy and hung on to the altar rail to hold herself down,” writes Dillard, making explicit her own identification with the great mystic. (Perhaps the very young Saint Thérèse of Lisieux would have been a better comparative model for Dillard here.) This anecdote foreshadows the flying image she uses at the end of the book to mark her departure from Pittsburgh in adolescence.
Part 3 of the book covers adolescence, the time when she begins to have a sense of wonder. As she says, “Young children have no sense of wonder. They bewilder well, but few things surprise them.” It is always, she asserts, the adult who points out the glory of fall leaf color, or the way ice coats every branch in a storm. Dillard, at thirteen, was beginning to wonder self-consciously, less able to transcend herself in the experience, more likely to retreat and examine it. In the epilogue she reiterates the two contradictory sensations that pull her—the transcendent epiphany, when one loses oneself in the experience, and the “sensation of noticing that you are here.”
In their descriptions of the contradictory emotions of a bookish but athletic girl who likes solitude, the sections on adolescence may be some of the most perceptive in recent literature. Dillard fluctuates between boredom and anger, with passing moments of ecstatic wonder. She writes passionate poetry in the style of Arthur Rimbaud, drives wildly all over Pittsburgh, pounds the “Poet and Peasant Overture” on the piano, is maniacally in love, makes obsessive pencil drawings, is suspended from school for smoking, and cannot wait to leave home. “I couldn’t remember,” she frets, “how to forget myself.”
Gender stereotyping and the stultifyingly limited choices for girls growing up in the 1950’s are also themes. This is surprising because Dillard’s work heretofore has been remarkably unconcerned with current issues of contemporary feminism. Her resentments surface strongly in the sections about her passion for baseball (especially pitching) and her early realization that Little League did not accept girls. At dancing class and at Sunday school, boys were mysterious and clearly better—they were in control and had real choices. “The boys must have shared our view that we were, as girls, in the long run, negligible. . . . We possessed neither self-control nor information, so the world could not be ours.” In the 1950’s, women spent most of their time alone in their houses, their work and identities invisible: “No page of any book described housework, and no one mentioned it; it didn’t exist. There was no such thing.” No wonder, then, that Dillard identified so strongly with her father; the book is in a sense a love letter to her father, beginning and ending with his love for travel, adventure, and jazz music. The role models she has as she leaves Pittsburgh are all male—Huck Finn lighting out for the territory, Jack Kerouac in On the Road (1957), and her father taking his boat down the Ohio River. In fact, Dillard had planned to use a male pseudonym for Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, saying she knew of no female theologians except Simone Weil.
Dillard’s style is both compact and elaborately intricate. She can write a periodic sentence full of soaring phrases or the terse four-word “I quit the church.” The influence of biblical rhythms and metaphors is very strong; the prologue rings with prophetic power reminiscent of the Book of Isaiah or the Psalms: “I will see the city poured rolling down the mountain valleys like slag, and see the city lights sprinkled and curved around the hills’ curves, rows of bonfires winding.” Both the repetition of the word “curves” and the ending of the sentence on a present participle (“winding”) are characteristic of Hebrew poetry. Dillard loves ironic juxtaposition, wordplay, oxymoron. Still, there is less of this dazzling display here than in her previous works.
Her description and analysis of the epistemological status of memory is vivid and intriguing. Memory, she writes, is fleeting, “like blowing tissue across some hollow interior space.” Once one tries to trap such memory fragments by writing them down, they are utterly changed. “The sentences suggested scenes to the imagination, which were no sooner repeated than envisioned, and envisioned just as poorly and just as vividly as actual memories. . . . It was easier to remember a sentence than a sight, and the sentences suggested sights new or skewed.” Such epistemological ruminations call to mind others who have wrestled with the concept of memory, from Saint Augustine to Henri Bergson to novelist Lawrence Durrell (The Alexandria Quartet, 1957-1960), and in particular, essayist Loren Eiseley, especially in his autobiography, All the Strange Hours (1975).
But it is perhaps the young Dillard’s emerging perceptions of nature, her tentative growing knowledge and enthusiasm for insects, one-celled animals, birds, rocks, butterflies, and moths that will give this book’s readers their greatest pleasure. For Dillard the nature writer—the solitary seer, the solitary stalker—here reveals how she got her start in the natural world, from the weekly trips to the library and the discovery of Ann Haven Morgan’s Field Book of Ponds and Streams and Gene Stratton Porter’s Moths of the Limberlost to the gift of the microscope and her friend Judy’s weekend place in Paw Paw, West Virginia.
One of Dillard’s favorite symbols, found also in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Holy the Firm (1977), and Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters (1982), recurs in this work, that of the wounded or incandescent moth, its death the occasion for an emanation of the Divine. Here the moth is a huge Polyphemus, clawing its way out of its cocoon in a too-small Mason jar in front of a classroom of horrified school children. Its wings are matted and crumpled from not having room to unfurl them before they dry. The teacher takes the crippled moth outside, too late, and lets it go. It crawls down the driveway, unable to fly, its golden wing clumps, pulsing. Remembers Dillard, “Nevertheless, it was crawling with what seemed wonderful vigor, as if, I thought at the time, it was still excited from being born.” The moth becomes a kind of objective correlative for Dillard’s view of the world. Her own desire to fly is an obvious connection to this part of the natural world.
An American Childhood is less esoteric than some of Dillard’s recent works (Teaching a Stone to Talk, for example), and for that reason will probably appeal more to the general reader, but it helps if one can view the book within her literary canon, where it functions as her Genesis, an account of the origin in her own life of her concerns with transcendence and self-consciousness. Dillard is a deeply theological writer, and readers need to interpret An American Childhood in the light of the mystical Holy the Firm; if Dillard is read as just another autobiographer, her point is lost. That doubleness of losing self and finding self—the transcendent grace of oneness with the All and the ecstatic awakening—these are the essence of life for Dillard: “And still I break up through the skin of awareness a thousand times a day, as dolphins burst through seas, and dive again, and rise, and dive.”
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 220
Clark, Suzanne. “Annie Dillard: The Woman in Nature and the Subject of Nonfiction.” In Literary Nonfiction: Theory, Criticism, Pedagogy, edited by Chris Anderson. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1989. Clark’s analysis probes Dillard’s prose style in order to question how one knows that this is “woman’s” writing.
Gunn, Janet Varner. “A Politics of Experience: Leila Khaled’s My People Shall Live: The Autobiography of a Revolutionary.” In De/Colonizing the Subject: The Politics of Gender in Women’s Autobiography, edited by Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1992. A somewhat advanced study, this essay is nevertheless useful for providing a comparison to Dillard’s focus on the significance of landscape to memory.
Johnson, Sandra Humble. The Space Between: Literary Epiphany in the Work of Annie Dillard. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1992. A study of literary epiphany, this work examines all Annie Dillard’s writing as a “perusal of illumination.” Includes a secondary bibliography and a thorough index.
Scheick, William. “Annie Dillard: Narrative Fringe.” In Contemporary American Women Writers: Narrative Strategies, edited by Catherine Rainwater and William Scheick. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1985. This essay discusses Dillard’s narrative technique as a metaphysical concept.
Smith, Linda L. Annie Dillard. New York: Twayne, 1991. This biographical work sums up Dillard’s career and anticipates its future direction.
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