Difference Between Memoir and Autobiography

Autobiography and memoirs are frequently used interchangeably. It's simple to mix up these two nonfiction genres because they are so similar to one another. 

They both utilise the pronouns "I" and "me" because they are written in the first person and are biographies of the same individual. Both of them are authentic accounts of the author's life. But there are some significant variations. 

A memoir is a factual story in which the author reflects on a series of related events from their life or recounts memories from a particular period. An autobiography is an accurate, chronological description of a person's complete life.

You've come to the right place if you've struggled to understand the distinction between autobiography and memoir.

Memoir Vs. Autobiography: Definition

The word memoir is a translation of the French word mémoire, which means memory. A memoir is a compilation of nonfiction but subjective narratives in which the author recalls experiences, feelings, and things that happened during a particular time in their life. Memoirs concentrate on accurately but emotionally unreliable expressing the author's interpretation of these recollections.

A person's autobiography is a nonfiction account of their life. An autobiography is often written chronologically and covers the author's life up to that point. It is occasionally (but not always) started in the author's later years of life. The incidents that are described in autobiographies are genuine and have been verified. Historians frequently consult them as sources. People with some level of renown often create autobiographies describing their rise to recognition. A politician, activist, businessperson, professional athlete, or celebrity could be the author. A biography, however, can be written by anyone. The word "autobiography" derives from three Greek root words: "auto," which means "self," "bio," which means "life," and "graph," which means "write."

Memoir Vs. Autobiography: Pronunciation

The word memoir may be challenging, but it's relatively straightforward. The beginning is "mem," which is the same as "memory." The word "war" is fundamentally pronounced longer at the end. It has the phonetic combination "MEM-waar" when spoken simultaneously. See an online dictionary for an audio recording of this word being spoken aloud.

For pronouncing autobiography, Put together phonetically, it sounds like “au Tuh Bai O Gruh fee” To hear this term spoken out, you can look up the definition in an online dictionary.

Memoir Vs. Autobiography: Structure

There is no one ideal format for a memoir. Memoir writers can play around with the sequence of the events they're reliving, the use of the past or present tense, a linear narrative, and the division of their memoir into sections.

A memoir can be of any genre, but it must contain the following:

  • A particular theme
  • The author overcame something
  • first-person narration
  • supporting facts, events, and people from the past and the present
  • basics of storytelling, such as plot and setting
  • Honesty

Memoirs frequently follow one of these formats:

  • Flashbacks: To give background information, the author alternates between the past and the present.
  • Chronological: The author describes the events in the chronological sequence that they occurred.
  • Themed: The author only adds recollections that fit into one particular theme.
  • Overcoming: The author concentrates on a particular challenge and how it affects their life.

Autobiographies have typically been written in chronological order. These arrangements are typical in the publishing sector. However, there are two standard formats for autobiographies.

The majority of autobiographies have the following chronological format:

  • Foundation: Childhood memories, family members, the community, daily life at home, school, friendships, and family customs make up the foundation.
  • Adversity: turning points that lead to success in life
  • Conclusion: Lessons gained from facing and overcoming adversity

Some autobiographies adhere to a pattern known as "the hero's journey," which contains the following components:

  • Adversity: a crisis or turning point in one's life that catalysed the life they now lead 
  • Foundation: early experiences, family customs, the community, school, and friends
  • Conclusion: their journey through adversity and the insights they discovered therein

A reader's interest can be captured using "the hero's journey" approach. Readers are compelled to keep reading because it makes them curious and wants a solution.

Differences between Memoir and Autobiography as a Literary Genre

Memoirs are within the literary nonfiction category. In a memoir, the author describes their experiences throughout an essential phase of their life. In a collection of personal essays, they may concentrate on their upbringing and family, a spiritual journey, their encounter with fame, and various events. Nowadays, some memoirs are graphic novels, including the author's illustrations.

Autobiographies fall under the category of nonfiction. Accurate and chronological autobiographies are. Writers frequently concentrate on setting their own lives and personal development within historical and cultural backgrounds.

Memoir Vs. Autobiography: Examples

Memoirists only disclose the experiences and feelings relevant to the selected theme or era. A few well memoirs from the past and present are listed below:

  • Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • Night by Elie Wiesel
  • A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers
  • A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
  • Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance by Barack Obama
  • Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt
  • An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield
  • Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India, and Indonesia by Elizabeth Gilbert
  • Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly by Anthony Bourdain
  • Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison by Piper Kerman
  • Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen
  • The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
  • I Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
  • My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem
  • Love, Loss, and What We Ate by Padma Lakshmi
  • On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

Autobiographies are comprehensive, accurate chronicles of a person's life. Here are a few historical examples of widely read autobiographies:

  • Chronicles: Volume One by Bob Dylan
  • Agatha Christie: An Autobiography by Agatha Christie
  • Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda
  • Autobiography of an Androgyne by Earl Lind
  • I Am Ozzy by Ozzy Osbourne
  • Autobiography of Mark Twain by Mark Twain
  • Cash: The Autobiography by Johnny Cash
  • The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin by Benjamin Franklin
  • Living for Change: An Autobiography by Grace Lee Boggs
  • The Story of My Life by Helen Keller
  • Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela 
  • The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano by Olaudah Equiano
  • The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X and Alex Haley
  • Open: An Autobiography by Andre Agassi
  • Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass By Frederick Douglass
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