The Loss of Narrative as Theme in Joan Didion's White Album

James Ollen-Smith, English 171, Sages and Satirists, Brown University, 2002

In the following passage Didion describes a loss of faith in the supposed narrative of life. She begins to believe that events occurring around her are essentially random and lacking in real meaning, or at best superficially arranged and ordered.

The only problem was that my entire education, everything I had ever been told or had told myself, insisted that the production was never meant to be improvised: I was supposed to have a script, and had mislaid it. I was supposed to hear cues, and no longer did. I was meant to know the plot, but all knew was what I saw: flash pictures in variable sequence, images with no meaning? beyond their temporary arrangement, not a movie but a cutting-room experience. In what would probably be the middle of my life I wanted still to believe in the narrative and in the narrative's intelligibility, but to know that one could change the sense with every cut was to begin to perceive the experience as more electrical than ethical. (pp.12-13)

Questions:

Is this book an attempt to provide a narrative for Didion's and other people's American experience, or is she truly accepting the randomness of things and simply examining them one by one, as isolated cases?

Is there a narrative, or string, tying these essays together?


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Last modified 6 February 2002