What I have made for myself is personal, but is not exactly peace

Joan Didion made for herself. The broadcast discourse of the nation, “autodidacts” demanding Mandates and revolution, headlines blaring the murder of five, a five-year-old clinging to the fence on Interstate 5 — the issues of the system, the society, the sixties, Didion made for herself (30). In “The White Album,” Didion relives her life, the news-making events intertwined and personal, with overtones of satire and biting poignancy that smack at our tendency to exploit the stories of the press, using “glimpses of crisis in a stranger’s life” to ponder “where are we heading” (145; 173). The public life of liberal Hollywood, its generalization of details and politics, shoots murder as a scenario, a short story to caution, symbolize, observe from our couches. Yet, Didion delves into the specific, the “senseless chain of correspondences” that ties her fate with that of John Kennedy, Linda Kasabian, Sharon Tate, Roman Polanski and the child they are both godparents to (45). The Manson murders were not products of the era, the deaths were not of strangers:

In this light, all narrative was sentimental. In this light all connections were equally meaningful, and equally senseless. Try these: on the morning of John Kennedy’s death in 1963 I was buying, at Ransohoff’s in San Francisco, a short silk dress in which to be married. A few years later this dress of mine was ruined when, at a dinner party in Bel-Air, Roman Polanski accidentally spilled a glass of red wine on it. Sharon Tate was also a guest at this party, although she and Roman Polanski were not yet married. On July 27, 1970, I went to the Magnin-Hi Shop on the third floor of I. Magnin in Beverly Hills and picked out, at Linda Kasabian’s request, the dress in which she began her testimony about the murders at Sharon Tate Polanski’s house on Cielo Drive. “Size 9 Petite,” here instructions read. “Mini but not extremely mini. In velvet is possible. Emerald green or gold. Or: A Mexican peasant-style dress, smocked or embroidered.” She needed a dress that morning because the district attorney, Vincent Bugliosi, had expressed doubts about the dress she had planned to wear, a long white homespun shift. “Long is for evening,” he had advised Linda. Long was for evening and white was for brides. At her own wedding in 1965 Linda Kasabian had worn a white brocade suit. Time passed, times changed. Everything was to teach us something. At 11:20 on the July morning in 1970 I delivered the dress in which she would testify to Gary Fleischman, who was waiting in front of his office on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. He was wearing his porkpie hat and he was standing with Linda’s second husband, Bob Kasabian, and their friend Charlie Melton, both of whom were wearing long white robes. Long was for Bob and Charlie, the dress in the I. Magnin box was for Linda. The three of them took the I. Magnin box and got into Gary Fleischman’s Cadillac convertible with the top down and drove off in the sunlight toward the freeway downtown, waving back at me. I believe this to be an authentically senseless chain of correspondences, but in the jingle-jangle morning of that summer it made as much sense as anything else did. [44-45]

Time passes, times change. We learned something. And because we cannot say, “what I have made for myself is personal,” racial inequality, and assassination, and murder will be news on air and we will have our “exactly peace” (206).


1. How does Didion’s use of repetition shape tone, structure, and coherency in this passage and in the larger context of “The White Album?”

2. What is the significance of rewording Kasabian’s phrase, from “Everything was to teach me something,” to “Everything was to teach us something” in this passage? (18;45).

3. Preceding this passage, Didion writes, “I discovered that I was no longer interested in whether the woman on the ledge outside the window of the sixteenth floor jumped or did not jump, or in why. I was interested only in the picture of her in my mind.” (44) How does Didion’s discovery make this passage “equally meaningful, and equally senseless?” (44).

4. Didion does not want her “life reduced to a short story” (145). She wants “life expanded to a novel” (145). Are these disparate metaphors, or is Didion yet wanting in “room for flowers?” (145).

Victorian Web Overview Victorian courses Joan Didion

31 January 2011