Isaac Gordon (b. 1927): Purpose and Audience – Writing Lives

Isaac Gordon (b. 1927): Purpose and Audience

Image of the parish of St Catherine located on the Southern coast of Jamaica. Bog Walk (Rio Cobre George)

Isaac Gordon’s autobiography differs from many other working-class autobiographies from this period. His purpose and audience is outlined at the end of his text when he states, “I am telling Jud about my life and she just write it down” (34).

Isaac began writing his autobiography to help him in his quest to learn how to read and write. In his ‘Afterword’, Gordon tells us that his autobiography was “work [him and Jud] do over one year and 6 months” (34). This work is to help him integrate into society and achieve a better way of living by being able to fill out his own forms and go to interviews for work. This was not the sole purpose of his autobiography, for as he was telling Jud at the Hackney Reading Centre of his life, the purpose of his work changed slightly. Gordon began to realise that his story was “growing more and more” and “getting interesting” the more he spoke to Jud about his life (34). This shifted the purpose of his text from being a form of self-education, to one that might teach and educate others about his life in a creative way. Isaac’s audience therefore changed from a small collective group of people within the same community of the Hackney Reading Centre, to a wider audience of those who would buy his published book. Isaac’s book was made in print by the Hackney Reading Centre just after he and Jud finished writing it. Interestingly, the audience of Gordon’s autobiography has also changed to this present day. In 1979, his text would have been sold in bookshops in Britain and more specifically, within the community of Hackney or London. Whereas, presently in 2019, Gordon’s text can be purchased on Amazon and found digitally online, allowing his text to reach a more global readership. 

Isaac begins his memoir talking about where he was born and the challenges that he faced throughout his early years. Many of these experiences may have been different to people in the UK. I can see in Gordon’s autobiography that he contextualises much of the information about Jamaica. This is because, initially, his intended audience was that of the Hackney community and maybe the wider British public. It is possible that readers may not have related to many references that Gordon made about his home life and would have wanted to learn more about it through Gordon’s autobiography. By contrast, the modern-day readership of Gordon’s autobiography may be more educated about colonisation and the effects that it had on the countries that were colonised, even if they do not have specific knowledge about Jamaica. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan suggest that British colonisers used the English language to create a more literate class (Rivkin, Ryan, 2016, 1072). Isaac’s aim was to learn better English for himself, though he keeps his own style of speech, speaking in Jamaican creole. However, Gordon does not talk about colonialism in his story explicitly.

Image of Octavia Butler who was said to have broke new ground by being a female science fiction writer in the 1970s.

Isaac’s autobiography mostly addresses his life and the events that affected him and his family over the years that he has covered, which he never references explicitly. He addresses this when writing about the purpose of his narrative, noting that he hopes “other people like to read it” (34).  Isaacs’s story talks for the 20th Century Jamaican community and more broadly, about black working-class lives in 20th century Britain.

Gordon’s text is dissimilar to many other working-class autobiographies written at the same time. Gordon’s background and his travelling around the world makes his memoir unique. However, though the autobiography itself differs from many of the rest, the aims and motivations of Gordon’s text seem similar to other working-class autobiographies. As indicated above, the main aim of his text was for educational reasons. However, Gordon may have, like many other working – class writers, wanted to get his life on paper in order to communicate to others his unique story. For example, similarities between Gordon’s autobiography and some others written around the same time may be him leaving school at a very young age and beginning work with his father.

Works cited:

Gordon, Isaac. ‘Going Where the Work is’. Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection Library, vol. 2:327.

Rivkin, J. and Ryan, M. (2013). Literary Theory. 2nd Ed. Malden: Blackwell Publishing, p.1072.

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