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COMPARING FICTION AND AUTOBIOGRAPHY
First person narrator (I)
Common (narrator is a character) e.g. Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby Always in the first person (though we can sometimes distinguish between personal and public selves e.g. Maya in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings)
Real historical events sometimes feature in novels e.g. the fixing of the World Series, bootlegging etc. in The Great Gatsby
Real events, both domestic and public The focus depends on the author e.g. a politician might focus mainly on his/her public life. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings has a mainly personal focus but against the background of racism, the Depression, etc.
Always, though normally (except in Sci-Fi, Horror etc.) they simulate real life events. Many autobiographies include imaginary sequences (e.g. the encounter between Momma and the white dentist in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings). Even factual events are distorted in the process of crafting a story - dialogue is invented, details are included or omitted and so on.
Figurative language (similes, metaphors etc.)
Very common. Very common. An autobiography that did not use figurative language would probably be rather dull. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings makes extensive use of figurative language.
Relatively rare. Time shifts are more common. (Animal Farm follows a strict chronological sequence, perhaps in order to demonstrate clearly the decline of democracy under pig rule.) Even in autobiography, this is fairly rare.
Non-chronological sequence (flashbacks, flash-forwards, foreshadowing etc.) very common. It allows the author to create suspense, highlight parallels/contrasts, add to the readers understanding of a character and so on. Authors often start with a significant event or memory rather than the moment of birth. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, for example, starts with an incident in a church when Maya was about 5 or 6, then shifts back to when she was 3. Later it continues to flash forwards and backwards.
Detailed characterisation, including psychological depth
This is common in serious literature, though some genres (e.g. thrillers, Sci-Fi) emphasise plot rather than character. Ironically, The Great Gatsby seems like an investigation of Gatsbys character but he remains something of a mystery even at the end. The focus of most autobiographies (e.g. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings) is the narrators personal development. Sometimes other characters are portrayed in considerable depth too e.g. Momma in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.
Very common e.g. East and West Egg and the valley of ashes in The Great Gatsby. Relatively common (e.g. description of home town, such as Stamps in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings).
A strong plot
Many novels include events leading up to a climax and then down to a resolution. A sub-plot is common. Autobiographies tend to contain a series of sub-plots, though there is sometimes a dominant storyline (e.g. the narrators pursuit of wealth, fame or justice).