Autobiography: Definition and Examples

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      Autobiography, in literature is the biographical text of writer’s own-self narrated by himself or herself. In the 18th century, autobiography was one of the highest forms of literary art. Fiction was deemed unworthy, while narration of facts was aesthetically and philosophically pleasing. This prevailing convention overwhelmed fiction to such a degree that many novelists passed their works as non-fiction, sometimes by creating prefaces written by supposedly real characters, who vouched for the authenticity of the story. Autobiographical works can take many forms including letters, diaries, journals, memoirs and reminiscences, which may or may not be intended for formal publication. Formal autobiographies offer a special kind of biographical truth: a life, reshaped by recollection, with all of recollection’s conscious and unconscious omissions and distortions. The novelist Graham Greene said that, for this reason, an autobiography is only “a sort of life” and used the phrase as the title for his own autobiography (1971).

      Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography is one of the best examples of the autobiography genre. Douglass was a reader of Franklin’s works and emulated some of Franklin’s rhetoric and style. Like Franklin, Douglass’ narrative also depicts, in part, the author’s rise from poverty to become a major figure in American society. Like Franklin, Douglass also stresses perseverance, sacrifice, hard work and success — values of an emerging American culture. Douglass admired the accomplishments of the framers of the Constitution and, in particular, Franklin’s achievements. Indeed, during his lifetime, Douglass was described as a black Benjamin Franklin.

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