Autobiography as a Quest for Identity
What is the difference between biography and autobiography? The former is more revealing and hence is more in demand. According to Graham Greens autobiography is only ‘a sort of life’. It is more selective. He observed that ‘it begins later and ends prematurely. If one cannot close a book of memoirs on the death bed, any conclusion must be arbitrary’. The reader of an autobiography becomes an interested witness to the writer’s account of his life. He is a keen observer of an author’s obsession with his identity and the crises of his life. The reader can find lessons for his own life from the author’s account. Necessarily, he is more an active participant of the creative process while reading an autobiography than while reading a novel. The reader is bound to find parallels between the experiences of the writer and his own. The history of autobiographical writing dates back to the ‘confessions’ of St. Augustine written in the second half of the fourth century. The difference between Christian idea of confession and autobiography as it developed in the eighteenth, nineteenth and our century must be noted. Peter Abbes says that ‘confessions, in their traditional form, crave forgiveness, autobiography desires understanding. Confessions are devoted to salvation, autobiographies to individuation’. It is only with Rousseau that the form of memoirs took its present shape – ‘simply myself’. The importance of the individual reader was understood by autobiographers after Rousseau. Gibbon, Goethe, Ruskin, Wordsworth, John Stuart Mill, Newman, Darwin and a host of others gave the field of autobiography its pride of place. In our century autobiography has been used as a means for relentless self-exploration and for organising our experience.
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