Jim Ingram’s family had a huge significance on his childhood and influenced the person he turned into. Ingram himself even says ‘In later years I was to marvel how the lives of these people– my uncles and aunts– were to influence my own life’ (4). Pierre Bourdieu suggests that family has an impact on our opinions and identity as much as society does. According to him, we learn what is expected of us from our family and this idea is present in Ingram’s memoir as his Father expected Ingram to follow in his footsteps, but was disappointed by the disability Ingram suffered with as it prevented him from doing this.
The family roles mentioned by Ingram show how the gender roles were turned around for example his mother went to work while his father was away fighting in the war. Women were given more responsibility and independence as they had to step in place of the men who were away. However, the work life his mother entered outside the home affected Ingram’s home life. He was left to fend for himself during the day: ‘I was always hungry. Mother was out at work all day, and my Aunt also, and it did not seem to be anybody’s job to see that a small boy was fed’ (7). Ingram highlights the beginning of changing roles for families.
This distortion of family roles caused an absence of positive paternal relationships for Ingram as he never really connected with his father on a personal level due to him being a stranger people only told him about for the first part of his childhood. His relationship with his mother was better but the bitterness she felt over her unhappy marriage with his father was forced onto him which made the whole family dynamic strained. He suffered especially because of the arguments between his parents: ‘They frequently quarrelled, each appealing to me to side with them. Sometimes for days on end they would not speak to each other, and I had to carry messages from one to the other’ (13).
It seems as though the most honest he is about his emotions in his writing is when he is telling us about his family: ‘Their violent rages made me so frightened’ (13). This is evidence that his family had a huge impact on his life. They shaped him and the negative relationship he had with both parents made him into the motivated and strong-minded person he turned out to be at the end of the memoir: ‘I would show my Father that I could accomplish something.’ (20).
It is hard to tell whether there are any omissions about his family life from the memoir because he is not vague when talking about them. He tells us of his uncle’s suicide and gypsy life which would have been frowned upon in those days so the fact he has mentioned these suggests he is very honest with his audience. Although there are times when he mentions people from his family briefly, this could be because they don’t play an important enough role in his story.
The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography, ed. by John Burnett, David Vincent and David Mayall (Brighton: Harvester, 1984, 1897, 1989) 3 volumes, 2:430.
Bourdieu, Pierre. Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. 1984.
Ingram, Jim. A Wartime Childhood. Brunel University. 1987.
Image reference: Poster advertising women working in factories (Accessed: 2/11/2015)
Image reference: Poster showing effect of war on families (Accessed 2/11/2015)