Storytelling, mini-narratives in Joan Didion's White Album -- Leading Questions

Carolyn Ang, English 171, Sages and Satirists, Brown University, 2002

The section "The White Album" in Didion's book deals with narrative and story telling. Didion tussles over what happens when a story is left unfinished and when the narrative doesn't make sense. By telling many different mini-narratives, most of which have no clear ending or satisfactory resolution, she emphasizes the fact that we cannot control life, or even properly document its happenings. Several of the people and scenarios she introduces (Linda Kasabian, the Ferguson brothers, Jim Morrison) recur throughout the section, although when first mentioned they do not strike the reader as particularly notable. This underscores the unpredictability of Didion's narrative, which is in a sense mirroring the way events randomly occur in real life. She starts off the section saying, "We tell ourselves stories in order to live" (11) and ends with "but writing has not yet helped me to see what it means." (48) This section is as much about the process of writing as it is about the raw material of people and events the writer has to work with.

Questions about the reading

  1. What is the significance of the 15 sections within "The White Album"?
  2. Why does Didion keep coming back to Linda Kasabian? What makes Linda's story more compelling/urgent than Betty Lansdown Fouquet's?
  3. Didion's non linear narrative emphasizes the confusion and uncertainty that life as a person and as a writer brings, but it is also frustrating as a reader to not understand why she includes the anecdotes that she does. Would it be worth it to trade some of this artistic illustration (using form to emphasize her point) for an organization that is easier for the reader to follow?

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Last modified 4 February 2002