Dreams from My Father
by Barack Obama
Read the description of this memoirA recorded story of one's life and experiences and return to this page. (Click the back arrow.)
Read and Listen to Barack Obama's remarks to the Democratic National Convention, July 27, 2004. Then return to this page.
Notes on Setting:
The Setting of the Memoir includes all of the times and places that have been important in the writer's life. The cultural contexts of his mother's youthful years in the 1950s and his own childhood in the 1960s were very different from the cultural milieu at Harvard, where Barack was educated as a young adult. The description describes the mother's "youthful innocence" and "the integrationist spirit" of the early sixties. In other words, the cultural thought of that historical time influenced her and had a huge impact on the life of the family. You will be able to trace the beliefs and values of periods of time throughout the book as Barack writes about the issues affecting his life.
Just as current thinking at any given historical time is one important aspect of setting, place is an equally important aspect. In the description of the book, you read very different adjectives describing Kansas [small-town Kansas] and Hawaii [exotic dreamlike islands]. Characteristics of place have a huge impact on character development, and in this memoir the setting is multinational, with each place representing a significant part of Obama's inner journey as he seeks to find his unique place and role in a very complicated world.
Notes on Character Development:
The characters in the memoir are, most importantly, Barack Obama himself and the important people who helped shape his life and personality. To analyze and understand the significant characters in the memoir and the way they affect each other, focus on the following points:
1. Concreteness: Pay attention to details about important characters' homes, possessions, personal tastes, habits, political opinions, etc. Try to imagine the character in his/her own setting.
2. Speech: The content and manner of a person's speech evoke personality. Pay attention not only to what a character says, but how s/he delivers the message. Is the person shy and reticenthesitant to express one's thoughts and feelings , aggressive and frankvery directhesitant to express one's thoughts and feelings , quick and humorous, petulantimpatient and angry for no apparent reason hesitant to express one's thoughts and feelings and sarcastic, thoughtful and considerate? Be aware of the relationship between the content and manner of speech and the character's social and ethnic background.
3. Behavior: The way a character behaves reveals a great deal about his/her personality as well as his/her ethical, psychological, and social development. Is the behavior consistent or inconsistent? How does the character react under different forms of stress? What does this reveal about personal strength or weakness? What is the impact of one character's behavior on others?
4. Motivation: What drives a character to make decisions, particularly difficult ones? Does the reason for a particular action seem self-centered, other-centered, or both? What does a character hope to achieve by his/her actions or decisions?
5. Change: Change is a marker of personal development or the lack thereof. Track the personal changes that occur (or fail to occur) as important characters face conflicts and suffering, confront new problems in strange environments, succeed or fail with plans or projects as they carry out the agenda of each stage of their lives.
Notes on Close Reading:
Be an active reader and mark up your book as you read. Use highlighters and pens to underline and make notes. A closely-read story is sourrounded by comments in the margins, exclamation marks, question marks, underlinings, stars, etc. These marks and comments help you to easily find passages in the text that are informative, meaningful or puzzling.
Mark words or passages you don't understand. Circle words which are unfamiliar to you. Mark longer passages by bracketing them and putting a question mark in the margin. Words or passages that confuse you are good for class discussion later.
Underline items you think are important. If you find sentences or passages that you think are giving a message (theme), advancing the action, story, or plot in a new way, foreshadowing events to come, telling something meaningful about a character, etc., underline, bracket, or star them. Write key words in the margin to help you remember where these important ideas occur. For example, when a new character is introduced, underline the words and phrases which describe this character and then write the character's name in the margin. When aspects of setting are mentioned (a different time or place), underline them and make some notation in the margin. If you see that certain words or ideas seem to repeat themselves in the text, note them also; they may be connected to motifAn idea or subject that is often repeated in a book. .
Note your feelings. Write down in the margin with exclamation points or comments any feelings that your have - positive or negative - about a particular character or turn of events. Especially note times when the passage makes you angry, sad, elated, disappointed, surprised, etc.
Mainly, enjoy reading this timely memoir of a contemporary young man who has the potential and the drive to serve his fellow countrymen in exceptional ways.