‘This is not intended to be an autobiography, but rather a documentary, a true record of the way of life…’ Armitage p2.
One aspect that caught my eye in Joseph Armitage’s autobiography in particular, was his dedication and the beginning.
I found this to reveal a lot about his purpose of writing and gave a clue to his political position, his opinion of the society he found himself living in and creates a sense of unity amongst working class people who experienced the struggle of finding work during the war and in the years that followed.
He reveals a level of discontent and disappointment with the lack of possible work and suggests that he and many others lost their faith in the government’s employment system. We may be able to assume that this is one of the issues he wants his readers to connect with, possibly creating discussion between readers and encouraging change, so that future generations would not have to deal with the same difficulties.
This dedication may have been his motivation to write his autobiography in the first place, creating a sense of oneness between him and other members of the working class yet maintaining a sobering nostalgic tone, reminding people that what can often be remembered as ‘the good old days’ were in fact, not so good.
Armitage speaks for himself and his own experiences, but also speaks on behalf of others, such as workers, family members and the communities he lived in. Describing day to day life for all of these people can be seen to educational for his readers. Could the purpose of this be an attempt to encourage middle class people understand the hardships of working class life by writing his autobiography?
One other way of looking at this, is the fact that Armitage is reluctant for his autobiography to be solely about him. This genre is primarily subjective and personal(Hackett, 1989), he may possibly fear that readers may lose interest or believe him to sound egotistical. Ultimately, Armitage positions himself as a lawyer, if you will, presenting his evidence to the jury, his readers,
‘Now instead of the worker being the master of the machine, the machine dictates the speed at which a person must work. Whether this is good or bad the reader must judge for him or her self from the following pages.’ p12
So, now more overtly, Armitage feels his purpose is to present to his readers evidence of how life really was and questions if the changing way of life is beneficial to society. Not only did technology change, but living and working conditions also changed, Armitage wrote about a period filled with adjustments and transitions he writes, ‘it appears to me that I have lived in two different worlds, two different lives’ p11. The relationship between ‘machine’ or technology and humans is still ever evolving, but throughout Armitage’s lifetime these advances were vast and life changing.
Armitage, Joseph H. The Twenty- Three Years or The Late Way Of Life- And Of Living. (1974) Found at The Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, at Brunel University.
Hackett, Nan. ‘A Different Form of “Self”: Narrative Style in British Nineteenth-Century Working-class Autobiography. 12.3 (1989): 208-226, 210