Comparison and Contrast of Paul Auster's "Portrait of an Invisible Man" and Carolyn Kay Steedman's "Exiles"

Essay by daniela_kovachevaCollege, UndergraduateA+, December 2003

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Paul Auster's "Portrait of an Invisible Man" and Carolyn Kay Steedman's "Exiles" present the family histories of two very different people, the former - an American poet and the latter - a British cultural historian, but nevertheless these essays have many things in common, both in terms of style and content.

The main character in Auster's piece of writing is his father. Steedman's work is also centered on her parents, and the tone of both authors is a bitter one - they recount their early years, remembering the lack of affection and consideration of the people they are writing about. However, Auster's essay is written in response to his father's death, which is one of the main themes in it, while Steedman's story is printed long after her parents' demise and has little to do with it. It seems that she wants to achieve a broader understanding of herself and her past through exploring her family history, not writing about only one person but about every member of her kin and along with that depicting the social conditions of the time.

Being a cultural historian, Steedman often alludes to such things as the fashion, the wars, and the market. Auster, on his part, gives much less information about the society, although he also marks some general characteristics of his time, like the leniency of the court for women with children, the vandalism and the dilapidation of some areas in towns.

The two authors have dissimilar ethnic and social background - Auster comes from a rich Jewish family, and Steedman - from a working-class English home, but they share the same family model - their parents are separated and their writing presents negative images of them. Auster portrays his father as a solitary, tightfisted man, devoid of warmth and...