Personal Anecdotes: From the Personal to the Political

To evoke the climate of change as the 1960s turned into the 1970s, Joan Didion crafts "The White Album," a series of small vignettes in which, ultimately, the personal and the political become one and the same. Didion's personal narration powerfully transports readers to a specific time, place, and mood. She constructs her narratives with taut and meaningful prose that suggests multiple layers of meaning. In the vignette below, Didion uses personal anecdotes, as well as several literary strategies, to portray the distraction and languor of the music industry:

Someone once brought Janis Joplin to a part at the house on Franklin Avenue: she had just done a concert and she wanted brandy-and-Benedictine in a water tumbler. Music people never wanted ordinary drinks. They wanted sake, or champagne cocktails, or tequila neat. Spending time with music people was confusing, and required a more fluid and ultimately a more passive approach than I ever acquired. In the first place time was never of the essence: we would have dinner at nine unless we had it at eleven-thirty, or we could order in later. We would go down to U.S.C. to see the Living Theater if the limo came at the very moment when no one had just made a drink or a cigarette or an arrangement to meet Ultra Violet at the Montecito. In any case David Hockney was coming by. In any case Ultra Violet was not at the Montecito. In any case we would go down to U.S.C. and see the Living Theater tonight or we would see the Living Theater another night in New York, or Prague. First we wanted sushi for twenty, steamed clams, vegetable vindaloo and many rum drinks with gardenias for our hair. First we wanted a table for twelve, fourteen at the most, although there might be six more, or eight more, or eleven more, because music people did not travel in groups of "one" or "two." John and Michelle Phillips, on their way to the hospital for the birth of their daughter Chynna, had the limo detour into Hollywood in order to pick up a friend, Anne Marshall. This incident, which I often embroider in my mind to include an imaginary second detour to the Luau for gardenias, exactly describes the music business to me.


1. In between the third and fifth sentences, the subject changes from "they" to "we." What impact does this have on the passage?

2. Comment on Didion's use of synecdoche and metonym and their effectiveness for this vignette.

3. For what purpose does Didion employ repetition, lists, and run-on sentences? What mood does she evoke?

4. In the last sentence Didion admits to the falsification of a memory. How does this relate to the overall theme of "The White Album"?

Victorian Web Overview Victorian courses Joan Didion

10 September 2007