Interviews as life Narratives

Interview is a personal narrative which throws light on a subject’s personality during his interaction with the interviewer. In fact, the aim of an interview is to explore and rather expose before the audience or readers a person’s judgement of issues, both personal and public. As a method, interview is one of the crucial forms in modern journalism; it has flourished in the West and interviews of eminent personalities have gained much popularity and news value with national and sometimes, international ramifications.

When interview is studied as one of the diverse forms of life narrative, we may argue that it is obviously an art form which is a personal form of narration. A brilliant interviewer succeeds in unravelling the personality as well as the hitherto untold personal experiences of an interviewee, from which others can learn and cherish a lot. However, interviews as personal narratives have certain drawbacks: as the age increases, the person suffers from memory loss and we may not jump into easily conclusions that whatever the subject says are facts and truth. Secondly, the subject does tend to censor certain dark and ugly episodes which happened in the past and issues like morality and ethics force him to hush up certain strictly personal matters like sexuality. Consequently, what we get is a fragmented narrative which is full of ‘gaps’ and ‘silences.’ However, there are subjects who are bold enough to reveal themselves and such acts may whip up controversies and public debates. Every interview has a politics behind it. Usually, the interviewers target celebrities and ignore the downtrodden, silent majority. They aim at revealing a personality but behind that there is a hidden agenda; either to glorify or debunk a subject. Thus, the celebrity syndrome’ of interviews has grown over the years and it is predominantly being practised in both print and visual media.

What is the audience psychology when they sit down to watch an interview? It may be argued that one can notice a tendency of voyeurism; people are curious to peep into the lives, preferably private than public and savour the not – so-pleasant episodes and experiences in a person’s life. Some highlight the experiences which prove that the so-called great people and celebrities too have feet of clay. Here, the person who interviews the subject sometimes acts like an uninvited guest in a subject’s life, an intruder who takes extra freedom to force the person to speak out sensational and controversial episodes in life which have ‘news value.’ Thus, one can see a power game where one tries to hide and be defensive while the second person tries to squeeze out sensational experiences. The so-called ‘encounter between the subject and the interviewer is a well-orchestrated performance and spectacle. A subject is often placed to be on the back foot when he is forced to answer certain unexpected questions. The person who hurls questions can succeed when he is able to unravel certain unique sides of a subject’s personality. It is interesting to note that sometimes amateurs can reveal a new perspective of a subject’s personality better than professionals because they are unpredictable for the subjects.

Interviews usually follow the pattern of question-answer method and good interviews reveal human behaviour which involves “complex interrelationships between sociological, psychological and linguistic variables” (Faddy xi). However, it may be surmised that a respondent’s attitude, habits etc. are very unstable and fleeting. Some interviews raise to the level of a confessional narrative which is very personal and down-to-earth when the interviewee shows an uncustomary frankness in divulging his deepest thoughts. Consequently, the onlookers get an opportunity to see another shade of a subject’s personality.

Is interview as a form biased towards a particular gender or class? The answer is affirmative because very often we come across men who accomplished themselves in diverse areas who are targeted by media people. Women too are preyed upon but many times, to create sensation and controversy. Regarding class, interviewers more often than not approach people who are a part of the ruling class or those who support the hegemonic block. But, in certain cases, in today’s world, we come across certain instances by which even so-called subalterns are getting opportunities to inscribe their voices. Nonetheless, such people are often ‘used’ as marketing products to sell by the media. Interviews have another dimension to them – they are primarily oral narratives, spoken lives before the interviewer put everything in black and white but not without his bias and political affiliations. With the advent and subsequent popularity of media forms like radio and then television, interviews of many subjects were able to document and preserve as valuable indicators for the future. Regarding the perspective of an interview, especially the claim of objectivity by the person who conducts the interview, it may be stated that interviews are essentially personal revelations of subjects in spite of being placed with the framework of questions set by the interviewer. Can an interview be considered as a life narrative? The answer is yes because the personal narrative of a person is recorded by the second person, the interviewer. In fact, interviews are basically spoken lives and when they are made available in the written form, the interviewer very often acts as a biographer rather than a copyist by adding or editing certain portions with or without the consent of the subject. Such spoken lives are very common today and it is very difficult to categorise them because they are simultaneously autobiographies and biographies. Interview is a complicated genre because it is very difficult to check the veracity of any interview, despite the claims of authenticity by an interviewer. Thus, one may not rule out the possibility of misrepresentation or distortion in an interview.

Every interview claims to be a unique act of self – revelation, a frank and rather straight forward exposition of one’s personality. The subject opens up his mind before the public and the interviewer rather peeps into the public and more importantly private affairs of a person.

Interviews of great personalities especially political leaders and cultural icons acquire the dimension of national histories or social chronicles rather than personal narratives. In the past, the so-called elite upper class and celebrities were the most sought after subjects for interviews but today the genre has been democratised and even subalterns are possible subjects. However, the reason behind the latter’s public visibility is the proliferation of media, particularly visual media and the growth of print media like news papers and magazines Interview is a mode of making and unmaking of personal myths surrounding a subject. During the interview, sometimes an icon is created as well as demystified.

It is rather naive to believe that interviews are full of facts and truth – the subject tires to manipulate and hush up certain incidents in his life whereas the interviewer distorts and manipulates through the editing process to promote his ideology. Interviews also help in the construction of a public sphere; we all know that heated debates, discourses and controversies emerge in the public domain after some interviews. For instance, the interview of Gail Tredwell, the controversial author of the book Holy Hell, A Memoir of Faith, Devotion and Pure Madness (2013) has recently generated heated public debate in Kerala. With the coming of the digital revolution, interviews are easily uploaded in the cyber space which act as a powerful site where debates and ‘sharing’ take place.

During interviews, apart from the subject “I,” we can find other selves coming up and we learn how they played their role in the development of the subject’s personality. We can find a set pattern of time frame – the interviewee takes a journey to the past, talks about his lineage, family, childhood, adulthood, then maturity and moves on to the present and ruminates over the future, before taking stock of his successes and failures. Very often, interview degrades to the level of an egoistic discourse when the subject speaks about his contribution to society. He quest for immortality is satiated through documentation of his life experiences. Another perspective of interview is that the subjects sometimes act as political spokespersons. In fact, interview becomes a powerful site where personal is political and political is personal.

The interviewer sometimes subvert the set norms and narratives of an interview by asking unexpected questions which can generated unexpected meanings and interpretations. It is to be stated that a text of an interview in print form, particularly in magazines is constituted by visual texts like photographs, illustrations and colour complexions. Every interview aims to set a paradigm, a model about how to live and how to achieve success in life; it acts as a mirror to society when it succeeds in transmitting certain set values and morals. An interview usually begins with an interviewer’s note of the subject and it may be interpreted as a mechanism to construct a self or gender.

The last section “Interviews” contains three unique interviews and what is striking about them is that the interviewees are all from the margins and displaced sections of society who have not been properly, represented in the mainstream. Chandramohan has conducted all the interviews in this segment. The interview with Meera Velayudhart drives home the travails of the dalit community and being a member of that community she has been trying to lend voice to her community.. The second interview with the LGBT Kalki Subramanyam throws light on the lives of the sexual minorities and their forced invisibility in our society which claims to be democratic. And the last interview debates on an important development in the society of Kerala ie., the migrant labour. The sharing of life experiences by some of these migrant labourers achieve the dimension of a collective life history. On the whole, this section is aimed at giving a platform, a forum to these voiceless people and to create an awareness among the elite class, especially the academics.


Foddy, William. Constructing Questions for Interviews and Questionnaires: Theory and Practice in Social Research. New York: CUP, 1993. Print.

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