The Grammar of Autobiography: A Developmental Account

By Jean Quigley | Go to book overview

8
Conclusion

The self is essentially a being of reflexivity, coming to itself in its own narrational acts. Wolf ( 1990, p. 189)

It is not child's play to make meanings that relate self to other subjectivities, to be the fulcrum of control, to be bound by commitment to norms and yet remain autonomous, and to be self in a world of causes beyond one's control. Bruner ( 1996, p. 27)

And yet most children can do it. Apparently autobiography is much easier than it should be because of some push even in the earliest normal development towards the elaboration of a reflective self ( Bruner, 1995, p. 170) which means that even at age 5, children can engage with some form of autobiographical discourse. Although these 5-year-olds can make a stab at it, they are not very accomplished in this activity. If, as Henry James is quoted as saying, "adventures happen only to people who know how to tell them" ( Bruner, 1995, p. 163), then, in the case of autobiographies, it seems that only people who can tell them, have them. Johnstone's ( 1996, p. 186) assertion that "this, I think, is what articulateness really is: successful self-expression" helps explain why this should be the case. She said "people who are not articulate are people who fail to assert themselves or in everyday terms, to make themselves felt". And Tonkin ( 1992, p. 133): "the development of oral genre is an important component of selfawareness as the articulate representation of oneself. An inarticulate interviewee may be so through having had so little authority over the life described that actions and events can only be rendered blurrily and inconsequentially." This must be the case with young children. Narrative development is really only beginning at this stage.1 The 5-year-old child is as yet quite inarticulate, and perhaps most importantly for autobiographical discourse, she or he is quite unmotivated to parcel up events and emotions into one package as adults have learnt to do. We should not dismiss these early narratives because of their relative incompetence. A narrator's skills (or lack of in this case) in organizing and plotting are the means through which they direct interpretation, they are part of the meaning. They tell us something about the child's autobiographical self, but they also reveal something of the self-constructive implications of being

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1
For example, Montangero ( 1996, p. 7): "while 4 and 5 year old children are able to verbalize sequences of events, stories only take on an episodic structure for most children from the age of 8 onwards and the distinction between a narrative with canonical structure and an incomplete story or a simple script does not become operative until the age of 9 or 10 onwards."

-185-

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