Autobiography in Ezekiel Mphahlele's Afrika My Music

F-K Omoregie, English Department University of Botswana

Autobiography, is a literary account of a person's life written by himself or herself. An autobiography is not only about the author. Often, there will be other people involved, as in an essay detailing the author's relationship with a family member, friend, co-worker, teacher, pet, or childhood rocking chair. In an autobiography, the narrator is also the central character. The autobiographer has many reasons for looking over his/her life. Here are some:

1. To preserve memories of certain people:

a. ("Casualties," pp 101-116; "Living Dead," pp. 119-128)

2. To express feelings about specific incidents and situations:

a. Yes, Nigeria and Ghana gave Africa back to me . . .. We found a people walking with self-pride in spite of colonialism. We found here formidable cultures in spite of Christianity and Western education . . .. All my colleagues, and numerous Nigerians whom we befriended with great ease, were most generous and warm (p. 26).

b. I came to love this savannah country (Senegal) and the easy, casual dignity of the people's movements; the feminine elegance in places where formalities are traded; the tall, slender men with intensely eager faces; the music of the balafon and the kora (p. 43).

c. Encounter with Malawian Minister. See pp. 46-48

3. To clarify reasons for actions:

a. The tyranny of place . . . when I arrived in Denver, Colorado, in 1970, I bought a house, whose owner decided to leave a piano in the basement because it would cost sixty dollars to have it carried out . . . I started to hack it down with an axe . . . why should I inherit someone else's junk . . . I needed more room for my children: if they want to learn to play the piano, they can work and buy their own when the time is ripe. I resented being drawn into a piano-ornamented culture. (pp.131-12)

4. To explain why life turned out as it did

5. To trace the influences and events that shaped a career:

a. It was during this period of self-education, of teaching, trying to understand what my students wanted, that I made three discoveries . . . I became aware of the incisive qualities of the realism of Dickens, of Gorky, Chekhov, Hemingway, Faulkner. I became aware of the incisive qualities of Scottish and English ballads . . . most directly related to my point of view was the third discovery, by chance in the late Forties, of Richard Wright's short stories, Uncle Tom's Children . . . I smelled our own poverty in his Southern setting. (pp.17-18)

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Last modied May 2000