The art of representing a person, let alone their work, is not an easy ask to pull off, which is the reason why so many biographers fail to create a proper image of a particular person.
When it comes to the analysis of a person’s life and accomplishments, one might give more credit to an autobiography, seeing how the author should know the subject better than anyone else. However, in most cases, authors are tempted to write about who they wish they could be rather than who they actually are, and Woody Guthrie’s famous Bound for Glory is no exception.
First of all, it is necessary to mention that there is actually nothing in Bound for Glory that could make an average reader cringe. Quite on the contrary, the story is narrated in a manner that seems well put together, the characters surrounding the lead are very memorable and the tone of the narration creates a unique atmosphere of the life of a boy in the American South of the early and middle XX century.
Much to Guthrie’s credit, he knew how to capture the magic of the ordinary, at the same time successfully resisting the desire to portray fun little moments as incredible journey of laugh and whimsy, or to stretch his personal tragedies to the scale of a universal catastrophe.
The main strengths of the book, however, come into the light as the supporting characters enter the narration and Guthrie take a back seat to the character development. The interaction of the characters is what makes the book so interesting to read; as soon as the characters start talking to each other, their unique traits come out in full blue, which the forced moments of environment descriptions cannot hold a candle to.
Weirdly enough, the elements of fiction, which occur in the book quite often, do not bother the reader much and, moreover, add much to the story. Instead of listing a range of facts of his life spiced with some of the obvious moments of coloring the truth, Guthrie manages to make unique characters by creating interesting dialogues, which represent the era that Guthrie is talking about in a very graphic way.
Even though most of the dialogues are clearly the figment of Guthrie’s imagination, one must give him credit for giving the numerous people that surrounded him at the time memorable personalities, and very likable ones at that.
The fact that Guthrie and a boy with a “heavy-set boy with a big-city accent” (Guthrie 6) share a legitimate moment of actually being honest to each other is very affecting, since both know that they have little to no chances to survive at the time of the Great Depression, yet they still manage to find something in common that will keep their spirits lifted in the eye of the storm, that thing in common being their appreciation of music.
The fact that Guthrie portrays the speech of the people surrounding him in a very honest way without making them look like angels descended from heaven makes these characters three-dimensional and, therefore, very easy to relate to for an average reader.
With such fleshed-out characters as Guthrie’s mother, who, with all her weirdness and tendencies for switching her mood from loving and caring to hysterical and psychotic, is still supportive and inspirational, his uncle, who introduced Guthrie to the art of playing the guitar and the songs of the South, his friend, and many other colorful characters that Woody came across in his life, the book turns into pure gold.
Sadly enough, the novel also has its problems; and, ironically enough, these problems come out in full blue as Guthrie starts narrating instead of tricking the readers into getting excited over his interactions with the people surrounding him. The simple manner in which Guthrie describes people and environment conflicts with obviously forced metaphors and other decorations that Guthrie throws into his story for no obvious reason.
For example, the passage describing a cattleman that Guthrie passes by seems to make its message too on-the-nose: “He smoked a pipe which had took up more of his time in the last twenty years than wife, kids, or his cow ranching” (Guthrie 112). It would have been much more natural if the far-fetched metaphors like this one had taken a lesser part of the novel.
However, for those readers who prefer to indulge into the character-building process, there is little to complain about; Guthrie knows how to keep the focus on the plot and the people in it. It is just that the moments like the one specified above seem to unnatural not to distract the readers from the story.
Anyway, it must be admitted that Guthrie did a good job of creating a story of his life. Perhaps, he was the only one who could possibly pull off the emotional drama and the artistry needed to describe his path of a musician. A decent work of literature, Bound for Glory is one of the few biographies that definitely leave an impression.
Guthrie, Woody. Bound for Glory. London, UK: Penguin Books, Ltd. 2004. Print.