How do ways of explaining one's life vary over time? This text explores the historical nature of self-narrative by examining over 100 American autobiographies published in the last two centuries. Diane Bjorklund's study includes not only well-known autobiographers such as Mark Twain and Andrew Carnegie but also many obscure ones such as a travelling book peddler, a minstrel, a hotel proprietress, an itinerant preacher, a West Point cadet, and a hoopskirt wire manufacturer. Paying attention to the historical and cultural context of each autobiography, the author shows how different understandings of the self developed. For example, we encounter religious autobiographies (the largest category of self-narrative from 1800-1930), Horatio Alger-style success stories, tales of psychological conflict, and tales of society's influence on an individual. Through Bjorklund's examination of these accounts, the reader should be able to see the many different ways American writers approach complicated issues of human nature.
Prologue Acknowledgments Chapter One: Introduction Autobiographies as a Source of Data Organization of this Study Chapter Two: Autobiography as a Social Situation Interaction with an Audience The Presentation of Self Telling a Story Chapter Three: The Self as Morality Play Historical Background Theory of the Self Telling the Story Conclusion Chapter Four: Masters of Fate Historical Background Theory of the Self Telling the Story Conclusion Chapter Five: The Uncertain Self Historical Background Theory of the Self Telling the Story Conclusion Chapter Six: The Beleaguered Self Historical Background Theory of the Self Telling the Story Some Contemporary Variations Chapter Seven: Conclusion: The Autobiography as Moral Performance Appendix A: Method Appendix B: American Autobiographies: An Overview Notes Primary Sources Bibliography Index