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Posted on August 16th, 2012, by

Joan Didion is one of the outstanding writers. Her works aim at the mass audience. At the same time, it is not only ordinary readers, who enjoy her works, but it is also literary critics, who highly appreciate her works. Unlike many other writers, Joan Didion is renowned as the author of both fiction and non-fiction books. Moreover, both types of books are equally interesting to readers. In actuality, the main characteristic of Joan Didion’s books is her attention to a profound psychological analysis, which is present in many of her works. She attempts to reveal the internal world of an individual through the analysis of human feelings and emotions, which people can experience in their life. Often the author refers to such extreme feelings and emotions as grief, which many people are willing to avoid.

In such a way, the author explores human psychology, feelings and emotions, which traditionally remain under-researched by other writers. In fact, the author’s works tend to uncover the world which traditionally remained hidden from the public eye.

In addition, Joan Didion does not simply create original works focused on serious and very disturbing themes, but she also attempts to focus on antagonistic issues, which can evoke a very controversial reaction from the part of the public. The author’s efforts to explore the formation of human personality and factors influencing this process are of the utmost importance. Joan Didion helps readers to analyze their own actions and their internal world in the context of the external world. According to the author, it is impossible to isolate an individual from the society.

Therefore, an individual’s development is affected by external factors, including his social environment, parents, family life. As a result, external factors shape the personality of an individual and his internal world, traits of character, inclinations, interests, etc. Often, Joan Didion refers to her personal experience to explore human psychology and understand human actions. Joan Didion reveals the complexity and interdependence of these two dimensions of human personality, internal and external. Such a complexity of human personality and human life is perfectly revealed in many works written by Joan Didion, among which it is possible to single out “The Year of Magical Thinking”¯ and “The White Album”¯, where the author recalls her personal. The author analyses her life in depth and attempts to evaluate it objectively, even though often subjects of her analyses are her subjective feelings and emotions and her psychological state.

Joan Didion is renowned for her autobiographic works. In this respect, “The Year of Magical Thinking”¯ and “The White Album”¯ are very popular samples of her autobiographic works. In spite the fact that both works are based on the life of the author, they still have certain differences, which may be traced in the author’s style as well as in the message articulated by Joan Didion in her books. At the same time, books written by Joan Didion in different epochs and it is obvious that her life, views and beliefs could differ consistently in the late 1970s when “The White Album”¯ was created and in the 2000s, when the author worked on “The Year of Magical Thinking”¯. On the other hand, on analyzing both works, it is hardly possible to speak about consistent changes that could have affected the writing style of the author. Instead, it is rather the evolution of the writer from highly emotional “The White Album”¯ mainly oriented on the research of the impact of external world on the author’s personality to almost introvert analysis of her psychological problems and her efforts to cope with her grief in “The Year of Magical Thinking”¯.

In this respect, “The Year of Magical Thinking”¯ is more complex compared to “The White Albums”¯, especially in regard to the psychological analysis conducted by the author. In fact, “The White Album”¯ tends to be more oriented on the external world, which the author attempts to understand and evaluate in the context of her personal feelings and emotions. The author apparently views the external world as an important factor that influences her life and her psychological state. At the same time, it is important to underline that Joan Didion describes a turbulent epoch, the 1960s, in her “White Album”¯.

Obviously, events that took place in the social, economic and political life could not fail to affect Joan Didion’s personality. For instance, she discusses Black Panther Party Meeting, which reveals a bunch of social and economic problems the author was unaware of. Consequently, it is possible to presuppose that her social views are influenced consistently by events that take place in the external world and it is possible to trace the devotedness of the author to the self-research and self-understanding. At this point, the book is similar to “The Year of Magical Thinking”¯, since the author describes in details her ongoing psychological difficulties. The author pays a lot of attention to her feelings and emotions, but she does not simply describe them, but she attempts to analyze them in details and understand herself.

In “The White Album”¯ the author underlines the importance of the external world for her self-perception and self-understanding. For instance, she argues that the older generation has failed to give the younger generation the direction to move at. She explains the social and cultural crisis by the lack of the direction. At the same time, she does not really distinguish herself from the young generation. Instead, she closely associates herself with young people and it is through her psychological problems readers can learn about those psychological difficulties the young generation faced at the epoch.

In this respect, “The Year of Magical Thinking”¯ seems to be more internalized. What is meant here is the fact that Joan Didion is mainly focused on her personal feelings and emotions, her psychological state and problems. She has to overcome all these problems while passing through probably the most difficult period in her life, when her husband is dead and the life of her daughter is under a threat too. Obviously, the situation the author describes in “The Year of Magical Thinking”¯ is quite different from that of “The White Album”¯. Joan Didion does not focus on the external world or socially meaningful events. In stark contrast, she is entirely concentrated on her own family and her life, which has undergone a series of dramatic and tragic changes.

In “The White Album”¯ Joan Didion explained her psychological difficulties by such factors as the lack of direction. She easily explained this problem by the inability of the older generation to give the direction to the younger generation, she even presents herself as a victim of the older generation. Similarly she witnesses injustice, discrimination and social inequality which results in the growing social tension.

As for “The Year of Magical Thinking”¯ the author cannot find such external factors that could explain the cause of her psychological problems. The death of her husband and health problems of her daughter cannot be explained by some concrete external power, such as the older generation. Instead, it is a natural course of the development of human life and the author attempts to analyze and understand her feelings and emotions, her psychological state at large in the situation, when there is no one to blame. Hence, it is very difficult for the author to cope with her grief. She cannot accept the death of her husband and health problems of her daughter. She needs some explanation and she returns to the tool which has already proved to be effective enough to cope with her psychological problems ”“ she refers to self-analysis. She researches her internal world as she did when she wrote “The White Album”¯. Through the analysis of her problems from within she attempts to solve them.

Obviously, through mediation and profound analysis concerning her internal state, Joan Didion has managed to focus on the process, evolution of her grief and her internal state that distracted her from the grief proper and helped her to overcome her psychological problems, which she used to believe were unsurpassable. In such a way, the difference between the two books discussed becomes obvious since, even though in “The White Album”¯ Joan Didion analyzed in details her psychological difficulties and paid a lot of attention to her internal world, she still viewed the external world as the primary cause of her problems. In contrast, in “The Year of Magical Thinking”¯ the author remains devoted to the research of her internal world and psychology. She cannot justify and explain her problems, especially her grief, by external factors only. As a result, the understanding of herself, her psychology and her grief becomes the primary concern of the author by means of which she eventually eases her psychological sufferings.

In spite of existing differences between the two books, “The White Album”¯ and “The Year of Magical Thinking, it is important to underline that both books have the common ground. They are not simply focused on the life of one and the same person and her personal development, changes, sufferings, etc. In fact, these books reveal the clear trend to the close interaction between internal and external world. The author cannot help from intertwining internal and external world and she proves to be unable to focus entirely on one of these two worlds.

Furthermore, the author closely intertwines her subjective feelings, emotions and psychological difficulties with the objective, scientific approach to herself-analysis based on psychological analysis of her personality. At this point, it should be said that her grief is apparently her internal problem, which is highly subjective, but it is provoked by objective external factors. In actuality, it is obvious that people have different psychology, different traits of character, moral principles and ethical norms. Consequently, the response of Joan Didion to the death of her husband and health problems of her daughter may be common but it is not absolutely identical compared to reaction of other people to the similar events that could have occurred in their life. In other words, the psychological response of people to such tragic events as a death or illness of a close relative can be different and depends on the personality. Thus, the response of Jean Didion is highly subjective because it is influenced by her unique psychological traits and characteristics.

At the same time, the cause of her psychological problems and her subjective and unique reactions is objective and relates to the external world, since the cause is the death of her husband. It proves beyond a doubt that the death of her husband is a part of objective reality and the author cannot ignore this fact, but she can interpret and perceive this fact in her own, subjective way. As a result, one and the same event can evoke different responses. For instance, Joan Didion suffers a lot and she is almost insane from the grief, while her daughter remains ignorant of the death of her father, which has actually taken place. This is why she does not have any psychological problems in this regard.

On the other hand, she suffers from serious health problems which exist objectively and apparently cause a lot of sufferings of the girl.

Such a trend to the close interaction and interdependence between the objective external world and subjective internal world can be traced in “The White Album”¯ as well. The author does not distinguish her psychological difficulties from numerous social problems, conflicts and contradictions she witnessed in the objectively existing, external world. For instance, Joan Didion describes in details the social environment which she lives in and which cannot fail to affect her. In this respect, it is worth mentioning her description of Black Panthers Party meeting, a series of prison meetings, her meetings with artists, etc. In such a way, she uncovers serious social problems.

It is obvious that she could not remain indifferent to her social experience, since the problem of racial inequality and social conflicts existed, as well as murders, and she learned about it during the meetings she described. Obviously these facts concerning the external world existed objectively, but Joan Didion lays emphasis on the fact that she could not ignore these external facts. She evaluated them and interpreted them shaping her personality.

To put it more precisely, she observes some events which take place in the real, objectively existing world. For instance, the meeting of Black Panthers Party or her acquaintance with LA musicians, who apparently contributed consistently to the development of local cultural life and shaped the mainstream culture of that epoch, contributed to the formation of her aesthetical taste, social views and beliefs. However, Joan Didion interpreted these meetings and acquaintances in her own, subjective way making them a part of her internal world. In such a way, through evaluation of the external world, the author formed her own views and beliefs which shaped her personality.

On analyzing “The White Album”¯ and “The Year of Magical Thinking”¯, it is possible to estimate that these books contain elements of the New Journalism. In fact, Joan Didion focuses on the objective reality, events that take place in the real world. At the same time, she does not limit her function as a writer or journalist, by the description of these events and facts. In fact, the author interprets the surrounding world, facts and events she witnesses. As a result, the books represent a combination of the objectivity and subjectivity. What is meant here is the fact that the author provides a subjective interpretation of events that take place in the objective, real world. Obviously, such an approach produces a significant impact on the audience and readers can fail to develop their own, independent judgment concerning objective events and facts described by the author in her books. Instead, they may be influenced by her subjective interpretations so significantly that they will eventually accept the position of Joan Didion and her ideas as absolutely correct and just.

In this respect, it is important to underline that Joan Didion used original writing techniques which were unusual for the conventional journalism. By means of these techniques she attempted to create books which could be not only interesting to readers but which could also capture their attention and persuade readers to support ideas and position of the author. Thus, the use of new literary techniques enhanced the convincing power of Joan Didion’s books. Joan Didion works apparently contributed to the emergence of New Journalism, but the author did not really want to create a new style or literary movement. Instead, she uses her original writing style to convey her ideas and emphasize her individuality.

For instance, Joan Didion practically entirely focuses on telling the story using scenes rather than historical narrative as much as possible. This trend is particularly strong in “The White Album”¯, where the author depicts the historical reality through scenes taken from the real life as well as from the personal life of the writer, but she does not attempts to conduct a detailed study of historical and social processes that took place at the epoch. This trend is less obvious in “The Year of Magical Thinking”¯ since the author is mainly focused on her family life, while the historical background of the epoch is secondary. Nevertheless, she conveys the history of her family through scenes, episodes from the past of her life with her husband and daughter.

Another remarkable characteristic of New Journalism, which Joan Didion widely uses in both “The White Album”¯ and “The Year of Magical Thinking”¯, is the presentation of first-person point of view. In fact, both books are autobiographic and it is quite natural that the author uses such a literary technique. On the other hand, the use of the first person point of view makes both books closer to readers, facilitates their perception by the audience because people feel more confident in the sincerity of the author compared to books, which are written with the use of the third person. Obviously, Joan Didion did not want to alienate herself from the narration. In stark contrast, she intentionally conveys her story through the first person point of view, eliminating the frontier between the narrator and main character of her books. As a result, both books are perceived on the personal level, while the use of other literary techniques is likely to make the perception of “The White Album”¯ and “The Year of Magical Thinking”¯ more formal.

Furthermore, the author amply uses recording everyday details of her life, such as behavior, possessions, friends and family. The use of this literary technique, which is the characteristic of New Journalism, basically meets the same objectives as the use of the first person point of view. In fact, by means of recording everyday details of her life Joan Didion involves the audience in her private life. To put it more precisely, the author depicts in details her feelings, emotions, shares her psychological problems with the audience and, simultaneously, she depicts her routine life. As a result, the audience can better understand the emotional and psychological state of the author, her problems and difficulties. Obviously, this is the main goal which Joan Didion attempted to meet while using this technique of New Journalism.

Finally, on analyzing the language and speech of her books, it should be said that the author uses informal language and tends to the wide use of conversational speech. In such a way, she narrows the gap between herself and the audience because readers feel that the author is just an ordinary person, a human being just like any other person is.

As a result, they cannot help from sympathizing with her, while they attempt “to get inside the head of the character”¯ (Johnson, 157). The author seems to be intentionally sincere with her audience. She uses simple and comprehensible language which people normally use in their communication with each other. Consequently, the use of the language, as well as other literary techniques, which are the characteristic of New Journalism, contribute to the closing the gap between the author and the audience.

Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is possible to conclude that Joan Didion managed to create very interesting autobiographic works, “The White Album”¯ and “The Year of Magical Thinking”¯. In these works, the author mainly concentrated on the analysis of her psychological problems, which closely intertwined with the objectively existing real world. In such a way, the author reveals the interdependence between the objective reality and its subjective interpretations by humans. In fact, both books reveal the complexity of human psychology, but also the author reveals the fact that an individual cannot exist in the isolation from the rest of the world and an individual’s identity is influenced consistently by his or her environment, external world which exists objectively and, to a significant extent, shapes an individual’s conscious. The experience of the author described in both books perfectly illustrates the significance of the adequate understanding and interpretation of the events that take place in the external world. Otherwise, an individual can suffer from serious psychological problems as the author actually did. At the same time, her personal experience may be very helpful since she shows the way to self-analysis and self-understanding. On the other hand, the books discussed above are valuable not only from a practical point of view, but they have a considerable value as samples of modern literature, which incorporated elements of New Journalism.

Both books are stylistically rich and they will be interesting not only for ordinary readers but also for literary critics.

For instance, some specialists admired her writing style and respected Joan Didion for “her distinctive blend of spare, elegant prose and fierce intelligence”¯ (Johnson, 139). In such a way, it is possible to estimate that Joan Didion has managed to create works which are very interesting for a wide range of readers and this is probably the main reason which explains the popularity of her books and the recognition of the author by literary critics and the mass audience.

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