Didion's Collage of Images

Sheila Dugan '07, English 171, Sages and Satirists, Brown University, 2005

Joan Didion's essay, "The White Album" begins with a disparate collage of images:

The princess is caged in the consulate. The man with the candy will lead the children into the sea. The naked woman on the ledge outside the window on the sixteenth floor is a victim of accident, or the naked woman is an exhibitionist, and it would be interesting to know which.

The rest of the essay mimics the beginning paragraph with Didion choosing to cover several events in the closing of the Sixties. These events include a recording session of The Doors, Robert and Thomas Scott Ferguson's murder of Ramon Novarro, and the trial of Huey Newton, the founder of the Black Panther Party. On a more personal level, the author speaks of first being misdiagnosed with vertigo and nausea and then diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. The physical layout of the essay even mimics the way Didion organizes her plot, choosing to utilizes small vignettes rather than a continuous block of prose.


The questions raised by reading "The White Album" deal primarily with the way Didion chooses the present the end of an era through the plot and structure of the essay. Would it have been more effective for Didion to focus on one event, such as the protests at San Francisco State?

Would another form rather than the short vignettes complemented what Didion is trying to convey in her essay?

What is Didion trying to say about the end of the Sixties by choosing these particular events, especially the murders?

What influence does the inclusion of the personal information on her multiple sclerosis diagnosis have on the essay?

Cited Works

Didion, Joan. The White Album. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1990.

Victorian Web Overview Victorian courses Joan Didion

Last modified 1 February 2005