I remember once when I was young that in one of my language classes, we were asked by the teacher to write an autobiography. So each of my classmates, at their tender age, readily scrambled for their dictionaries, trying to figure out what the word “autobiography” meant. One of my buddies whispered to me, insinuating that the word might have some relation to an “automobile.” I can’t help but chuckled a bit about his insinuation, but I guess both words were indeed somewhat related because both have the word “auto.” The dictionary told us that the word “autobiography” etymologically means a self-written account of one’s life. Derived from the three Greek words “autos” which means self, “bios” which means life, and “graphein” which means to write, autobiography basically means to write one’s own life. It is a story which is written primarily by the very person who had lived that life. Hence, most autobiographies are generally based on the recollections and memories of the writer. It is likewise closely associated with the literary form “memoir.”
It was only a couple of centuries ago when the word “autobiography” first came into use. It was in 1797 when William Taylor first used the word in the Monthly Review, an English periodical. Afterwards, the word had been in regular use to refer to a self-written story of one’s life. Yet, many writers before him had already written about their very own life, though they hadn’t used yet the word “autobiography.”
Autobiography in Contradistinction with Biography
Biography, although dealing with the life story of a person is usually written by another person. It is a selective and interpretative analytic study of another person’s life. The biographer usually gathers all the facts about a person and then tries to write coherently about that person. Examples of biographies are those of “Julius Caesar,” written by Plutarch around 45 B.C., and “The Life of Samuel Johnson” by James Boswell. On the other hand, an autobiographer tries to recall his/her own life story, its facts and happenings, based on his/her very own recollections, and then attempt to write a cohesive story about it. Examples of autobiography are those of Benjamin Franklin’s “Autobiography,” Bertrand Russell’s, and many more. You can readily online.
The Beauty of Autobiography
The beauty of autobiography is that it gives us a chance to see the life of a person from that person’s point of view. Hence, it is sometimes more exciting and more meaningful to read, because it is a first-hand experience and interpretation of a person’s life. Likewise, the closest we can get to a person’s life, if he be a great person, is to hear that person tells his/her own life story. A man may spruce up his autobiography, but it is still his own interpretation and paradigm that we can get out of his autobiography. In some way, it definitely gives us a new slant in understanding his mind.
Every person views one’s own self and the world from his/her own specific paradigm. Hence, in an autobiography, we are definitely provided an idea of the basic paradigms of the autobiographer. We can either take his/her viewpoints as matter-of-fact information, or interpret them according to our own paradigms. Yet, the fact will still remain—that autobiography is the closest we could ever get to the mind of a particular person.