The Ethics of Working Class Autobiography

Representation of Family by Four American Authors

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SKU: 9780786425761 Categories: , ,

About the Book

The ethical dimension of autobiography is emerging as an important area of study. Scholars now recognize that an autobiography must be read with an element of caution since it represents not so much the literal truth as the author’s perception of people and events, a perspective sometimes unflattering to those portrayed.
Focusing on the ethics of autobiography, this volume analyzes the works of four writers who spent much of their youth in working-class circumstances yet became highly educated intellectual professionals. It examines the ways in which each author confronts his or her past and how the authors represent their working-class family members. Texts discussed are Growing Up by Russell Baker (1982), Brothers and Keepers by John Edgar Wideman (1984), A Woman in Amber by Agate Nesaule (1995) and Clear Springs by Bobbie Ann Mason (1999). Each work recounts the author’s struggle with a particular societal element such as gender, race, class division or region. While Baker’s memoir provides an example of positive, balanced characterizations of working-class relatives, the texts by Wideman, Nesaule and Mason illustrate the ethical pitfalls in portraying less powerful family members in one’s life story. An overview of trends in working-class autobiography and a brief survey regarding the critical reception of each work are included.

About the Author(s)

Elizabeth Bidinger lives in Worcester, Massachusetts.

Bibliographic Details

Elizabeth Bidinger
Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 212
Bibliographic Info: bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2006
pISBN: 978-0-7864-2576-1
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments      vii
Introduction      1

1. A World Apart: Working Class Autobiographers and Their Families      31
2. Life with “A Formidable Woman”: Russell Baker’s Ethical Representations in Growing Up      74
3. Inventing the Self and the (Br)Other in John Edgar Wideman’s Brothers and Keepers      102
4. Autobiography as Healing: Agate Nesaule’s A Woman in Amber      127
5. “My Folks and Their Country Culture”: Inventing Authenticity in Bobbie Ann Mason’s Clear Springs      155

Conclusion      188
Works Cited      193
Index      199

Book Reviews & Awards

  • “A solid contribution…recommended”—Choice
  • “A powerful and important study…deserves a wide readership”—Journal of Information Ethics