Form and Content

(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

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...

(The entire section is 610 words.)