The Day I Became an Autodidact Analysis
Kendall Hailey’s teenage diary is quite easy to read and often amusing. It reflects the randomness of her youthful interests and mental processes, as well as her maturing grasp of life, relationships, and her own self. Over the course of four years—from her junior year of high school to age nineteen—Hailey grows from teenager to woman, earns public and parental recognition, and shares numerous insights with her readers. These insights focus on interpersonal relationships, the fleeting quality of fame, the importance of health and friends, and the intricacies of educating oneself. She deals with a variety of familial issues, her attraction to a younger man, her fear of not being talented, her relief at not having to fit into the academic structures of her peers, and her understanding of who she has become and where she is heading at this pivotal juncture of her young life. Hailey becomes a friend and confidant to her readers, asking little of them but companionship. Some of her diary passages are short, others more extensive, but they all flow together because of her ability to draw readers into her life and invite them to stay.
Few if any first-person works have been published that address what it would be like for teenagers to follow their own desires. While Hailey’s circumstances are unique—her parents are talented, famous, and rather well-off financially; and her offbeat household encompasses several generations and contains a majority of females—she is not a spoiled child. Her appreciation of her privileged situation makes her voice sympathetic, her commentary insightful rather than egotistical.
Hailey’s interest in films, novels, stageplays, and history allows her to explore the wealth of culture available to modern youths that is often overlooked in academic settings, which often refuse to deviate from preset curricula. Her leisurely exploration of the wealth of human knowledge available to her makes learning exciting. It makes her readers ponder what they would choose if given the luxury of circumstances and time that she enjoyed.
It is interesting that Hailey’s focus at first is on reading what others have written, and how this encourages her to begin creating her own novels and plays. Her first attempts are disasters, in her opinion, but she does not give up and ultimately triumphs as a playwright. Being in the right family at the right time was a definite advantage, but her exploration of the often-frustrating creative process—which she had observed through both her mother and her father—becomes very real as she describes it in her diary. This is a significant piece of her education, which results from living life as much as from reading books.
Hailey’s diary reflects how inspired she was by women such as Eleanor Roosevelt and author Jessica Mitford. It is ironic that her mother’s return to school for a writing class, in which the acclaimed novelist’s style does not suit the teacher, proves insightful for Hailey as well. Not surprisingly, the man who proves most influential to Hailey is her father, whose deteriorating physical condition fails to deter him from living fully and well. His suggestions to her concerning what to read and his encouragement of her writing also serve as significant catalysts to her education, boosting her self-esteem.
The theme of family is strong in Hailey’s diary, encompassing her father’s progressive illness; her relationship with sister Brooke, who is several years younger and more opinionated than Kendall; and her grandmother Nanny, whose influence on the entire family is strongly felt if not always seen. Hailey’s appreciation of her family and her insights into family conflicts make her readers reflect on their own.
It is fitting that the diary ends with the run of Hailey’s short play, as she has now moved from being reclusive and inspired by books to being involved and inspired by life. One senses that she is ready to take full advantage of an academic approach to education if she so chooses and that she will not be bound by mandatory reading lists, but will always use them as springboards for self-education.