John C. Sawyer (b. 1914) : Purpose and Audience

‘I am an unknown.’

John Sawyer is a man of contradiction.

John introduced his memoir with an interesting declaration, asserting that ‘no modern computer is infallible’ (p.I). He instantly reveals his negative, un-trusting attitude towards computers. From that point forward, he consistently criticises the mechanical inventions that came with the industrial revolution by comparing them to the human mind. He praises the flexibility and power of memories, stating that ‘one can journey back over the years and be with anyone, anywhere, any time’ (Page I). This topic seems to be important to him, so vital that he used it as the opening topic for his memoir. One of John’s purposes for his memoir was to send an influential message to the next generation, reminding them of the importance of their own brain and memories, and deterring them from becoming dependent on modern technology.

First Computer (whirlwind machine)

John wanted or anticipated an audience, as he spoke passionately of this topic and makes it the centrepiece of his memoir. His anticipation of an audience is also revealed in the closing sentence of his memoir, as he says ‘but after all that’s what life is all about, isn’t it?’ (P.128). He poses questions, something he does so consistently throughout his memoir. This regularity indicates how his interrogated tone may have been influenced by intended thoughts of a possible readership.

Throughout the entirety of the memoir, there is no mention of a name or any hint given as to who it is exactly intended for. This creates a sense of generality, and that he is speaking to anyone that decides to read it. He also makes general, inspiring comments, such as ‘they say that everyone has a book inside them’ (P. 128). This, again, is on the final page, so holds a significance to him as he had chosen it to be his concluding message. In this case, the message seems to be to inspire others to write a memoir themselves.

As John wrote his memoir during his retirement, there might be a question of his own mind’s reliability. He even passively alludes to the fact that there may be missing details, as he admits ‘This is my life – what I remember of it!’ (P.I) John therefore contradicts himself, as he reveals how there is a limit to the power of the human mind, and that limit is created through age.

John Sawyer wrote apologetically in the opening page of his memoir, influenced by his professed absence of individuality – ‘This is my first attempt at writing a book – no one may be interested, it may never appear in print’ (P.128). He constantly reinforced this opinion that he felt he was ordinary, as he labels his memoir as ‘nothing outstanding.’ (P. 128) This is reflective of what Regenia Gagnier summarises in her book, stating that ‘most working-class autobiographies begin not with a family lineage or a birth-date but rather with an apology for their authors’ ordinariness.’ John pessimistically doubts the worthiness of his words and the future of his memoir in terms of publishing. Yet, he contradicted himself on the same page, and instead embraced his individuality by confessing that ‘one thing is certain – no other person in the whole wide world could have written it.’ (Page 1) This contradiction suggests that John is both secure and insecure with his uniqueness, admitting that he may be ordinary and uninteresting, but then may be the exact opposite at the same time. After reading John Sawyer’s memoir, it is clear to see that he had a tendency to contradict himself.


[Gagnier, R. (1987) ‘Social Atoms: Working-Class Autobiography, Subjectivity, and Gender. Victorian Studies.

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