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What is so important about Biographies / Autobiographies?
Throughout time, people have been able to intimately learn about others through biographies and autobiographies. Both forms of literature not only provide a portrait of the person being presented, but also give insight into the society, culture, customs, and most importantly, the milieu in which the person lived.
A biography is said to be a sketch of a person’s life written by someone else. The word itself is Greek and means graphein, or a writing. Sometimes such a text is written in literature when the person is alive so that others of the time can learn more about a famous or influential person. But, sometimes they are written posthumously, or after the person being discussed has passed away. This type of genre writing discusses real people, events, and history that make it come to life, more than any other type of storytelling. All the facts about the person’s life may not actually be one hundred percent accurate, but are often based on collected facts from family, friends, acquaintances, or documents connected to the individual in the period in which they lived.
A well-written biography reveals most facts, but to some extent, the writing is explorative. For example, a biographer may want to explore the reasons why a certain person acted in a certain manner. They might also speculate his or her behavior or decisions based on other events going on during the time. Some such texts use journal entries, diaries, or even an autobiography written by the person to delve deeper into the subject’s life and times.
Unlike a biography, where the author may or may not have known the person in whom they are writing about, an autobiography comes directly from the source – that is, the person writing it is writing about him or herself. Some types of these writings tell an entire tale about the person’s life. Often times, this person is already famous and wants to reveal their own story to a wide audience interested in how they became famous, rich, smart, powerful, athletic, or even influential.
Sometimes an autobiographical writing is written so people will understand the reasons why a person did something, or to depict an historical event of the time. Even the novel form of writing is used to depict a situation similar to the author’s real life. Using such a form allows the person’s experiences to be written in narrative form. Many literature professors will claim, however, that a novel should be considered a separate entity from the author that wrote it. In rebuttal, some works are not merely coincidental, and experiences from the author’s life do appear in a plethora of literary works.
Overall, a biography is special because it gives us another person’s interpretation of events about an interesting person living in perhaps an equally interesting period. While it should be balanced and objective, many biographies are written to display the central character’s personality and give reasoning to why certain events occurred. An autobiography, on the other hand, is written directly by the person. The motive for the piece might be to reveal facts to an audience, to justify events, or to offer an interpretation on an event that the author experienced personally. In no other form of literature can we get closer to a person or a people than through these interesting, powerful, and revealing sorts of publications.