What is an Autobiography?

Devon Pryor

Simply put, an autobiography is the story of a person’s life as written by that individual. That said, many people think that their lives should be written about, but lack the writing talent to tackle this project alone. For that reason, many books are co-written with the help of someone other than the subject, or are narrated by the subject to a writer. Co-written, or collaborative autobiographies may begin with the phrase, “as told to.”

Celebrities and sports figures often write autobiographies; Marilyn Monroe penned one, though incomplete, before her death.
Celebrities and sports figures often write autobiographies; Marilyn Monroe penned one, though incomplete, before her death.

Whether or not the subject is the individual who actually writes the words of his or her story, most autobiographies are told from a first person point of view. This differs from a biography, which is clearly acknowledged as being written by a person other than the subject. As a result, the autobiographer usually ventures beyond dates and facts, personalizing the story rather than simply retelling the events of his or her life.

Benjamin Franklin's autobiography is considered an important early-American work.
Benjamin Franklin's autobiography is considered an important early-American work.

A more subjective style of book is known as a memoir. Rather than providing facts about an entire life, a memoir may only tell the story of a finite span of time within the subject’s life, and will usually focus more on the individual’s memories, feelings, and experiences. These are not event or fact-driven stories, but rather musings or expressions of the inner emotions of the subject. Memoirs may also combine historical fact with memories of the autobiographer. This particular kind of memoir is often called an eyewitness account, a term that encompasses slave narratives and Holocaust memoirs, for example.

An autobiography details an individual's life, as recounted by that individual.
An autobiography details an individual's life, as recounted by that individual.

Noteworthy examples of memoir-styled autobiographies include those of St. Augustine and Jean Jacques Rousseau. In some cases, memoirs are written by political figures in order to offer a personal account on some event in history in which they were involved. Such an example of a political figure using the memoir genre might be Mein Kampf, by Adolph Hilter. Memoirs written by political figures are often aimed at gaining notoriety or justifying actions.

An autobiography might be written to clear up gossip about a celebrity.
An autobiography might be written to clear up gossip about a celebrity.

Celebrities and sports figures are likely to write these books as well, since their lives are in the public eye, and are often of widespread public interest. These are often known as ad hoc autobiographies, and are usually designed to elicit and/or exploit notoriety. This type of book, although written in a first person point of view, is usually written by a ghostwriter.

Another form is a fictional-autobiography, a story written from the point of view of a fictional character. In other words, an author assumes the voice of a fictional character when writing that character’s own biography. The story itself is fictitious, but it is written as though it happened to the character.

A memoir focuses on an individual's memories, feelings and experiences.
A memoir focuses on an individual's memories, feelings and experiences.

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Discussion Comments

anon41566

should a person who writes his autubiography deal with all the privacies of his life?

jennifers

Although autobiographies are interesting, to get the real version (or as close to real as you can get, anyway) of someone's life, you should really get a biography written by someone else because it will generally be more truthful.

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