Darkness Visible Analysis

Darkness Visible (Literary Masterpieces, Critical Compilation)

On a chilly evening in December, 1985, at his home in Roxbury, Connecticut, William Styron became convinced that he was nearing the end of the road. He had been in the grips of depression since the preceding June; by October he was barely functioning. The life had left his voice, the hope had gone from his eyes, the zest from his life.

On that December evening, Styron’s wife, Rose, had invited people to dinner, old friends. They knew Styron was having severe problems. They kept up a conversation in which he was barely able to participate. Earlier in the day, at one of his twice-weekly visits to the psychiatrist, the doctor had prescribed a new drug, Nardil. Nardil is powerful, and anyone who takes it must avoid a considerable number of foods that, if ingested, might interact with the drug to cause a stroke. By this time, Styron did not care much about the dietary restrictions; his taste buds had all but vanished as his melancholia advanced. He probably did not care much about the threat of a stroke.

Such was his frame of mind that night when, after leaving his guests and going upstairs, he took his writer’s notebook—his most sacrosanct possession—wrapped it in Viva paper towels, sealed it with Scotch tape, put it into an empty cereal box, and threw it in the garbage, which was to be collected the next morning. Styron knew enough about the unconscious mind to realize that this single act was for him the ultimate humiliation, beyond which life could not be endured.

Viva towels, Scotch tape, an empty cereal box, and consignment to the garbage—these props and this act mirrored the utter lack of self-worth that had grown persistently in Styron since the previous June. Suicide loomed before and above him, a spectral and beckoning presence, a somber and enticing possibility.

Something unusual happened to Styron in June of that year, when he turned sixty.

Without warning, the author, usually a regular and heavy drinker, lost his tolerance for alcohol. When he drank, he became ill. He had no choice but to abstain. One lapse in August when he drank a glass of Scotch during a commercial flight to New York left him so ill that he knew he could never drink again.

During the summer of 1985, something was happening inside Styron that he could not fully identify and something he was hard put to discuss. He found himself

increasingly sinking into a depressive state that affected every aspect of his life: his

concentration, libido, memory, ability to work, association with others, sense of taste, even his judgment. He spent the summer, as usual, at his home in Martha’s Vineyard, but that year he became, at best, indifferent to the island’s encompassing, unspoiled nature that had initially drawn him there; at worst, it became menacing and made him fearful to the point of panic. His hypochondria was running out of control.

The situation was exacerbated by the fact that he could find no words to describe what he was going through. His was not the kind of depression that afflicts some people after a dented fender or five successive days of rain; it was more intense even than the kind one feels after the death of a child or a spouse.

Ever sensitive to the nuances of language, Styron rails against the term “depression,” which he equates with the ridge left on a soggy lawn after a vehicle has passed over it. What he was suffering was much greater than a small declivity in the earth; it was, in his words, “a howling tempest in the brain.” Because Styron could not directly communicate the intensity of his psychic pain, he became more and

more isolated from anyone who could help him.

Styron’s situation had reached a critical stage by late September or early October. He and his wife were scheduled to fly to Paris so that Styron could receive the Prix Mondial Cino del Luca, an award established by Simone del Luca in memory of her late husband, publisher Cino del Luca. This was a high honor: Previous recipients included Andrei Sakharov, Jorge Luis Borges, and Jean Anouilh. Only one other American, Lewis Mumford, had been so honored.

Arriving in Paris on a gray October day, Styron was whisked from the airport to his hotel, the plush Pont-Royal. As the car rode through streets that glistened with autumn rain, there came into view the run-down H6tel Washington, where Styron had stayed in 1952 on his first trip to Paris. Perhaps seeing this hotel so unexpectedly, remembering, and...

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Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness Darkness Visible (Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

During the summer of 1985, William Styron catapulted at break-neck speed into an abyss that almost claimed his life. By October, he was barely able to function. Shortly after that, he did something that convinced him his suicide was imminent: He took his writer’s notebook, wrapped it in paper towels, stuffed it into an empty cereal box, and put it into the garbage.

This simple action, he realized, was an ultimate act of humiliation, one from which suicide must surely follow. Destitute of every vestige of self-worth, despite the awards he continued to receive and the celebrity brought to him by novels such as LIE DOWN IN DARKNESS (1951), SET THIS HOUSE ON FIRE (1960), THE CONFESSIONS OF NAT TURNER (1967), and SOPHIE’S CHOICE (1979), Styron saw nothing before him but a mine field of the emotions that he lacked the will to negotiate.

Only his sense of the pain his suicide would bring his family and friends--as it had the family and friends of some of his literary associates who had committed suicide--caused Styron to demand the hospitalization that finally resulted in his shaking his tenacious despair and again being able to function.

His account of this struggle is candid and balanced. As an anatomy of the kind of severe depression that often culminates in suicide, DARKNESS VISIBLE is a deeply personal statement. Overall, however, it is optimistic. Styron lives today and is productive. He could not have predicted this outcome during the troubled days of late 1985.

Suggested Readings

Booklist. LXXXVI, July, 1990, p.2043.

Chicago Tribune. September 2, 1990, XIV, p.3.

Commentary. XC, November, 1990, p.54

Cronkite, Kathy. On the Edge of Darkness: Conversations About Conquering Depression. New York: Doubleday, 1994.

Karp, David Allen. Speaking of Sadness: Depression, Disconnection, and the Meanings of Illness. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.

Wurtzel, Elizabeth. Prozac Nation: Young and Depressed in America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1994.

Library Journal. CXV; August, 1990, p.127.

Los Angeles Times. August 28, 1990, p. El.

The New York Times Book Review. XCV; August 19, 1990, p.1.

Newsweek. CXVI, August 27, 1990, p.60.

Publishers Weekly. CCXXXVII, July 13, 1990, p.46.

Time. CXXXVI, September 3, 1990, p.73.

The Washington Post Book World. XX, August 26, 1990, p.1.

Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness Historical Context

The 1980s and Drugs in America
Styron’s mental breakdown in 1985 preceded by two years the release of Prozac, the most popular...

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Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness Literary Style

Style
Darkness Visible is written from the first-person point of view and is a type of memoir. Memoirs are autobiographical...

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Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness Topics for Further Study

• Styron suggests that the onset of his severe depression came after he stopped drinking alcohol. Research the links between alcoholism and...

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Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness Media Adaptations

• Styron’s novel Sophie’s Choice was made into a motion picture in 1982, starring Meryl Streep as the survivor of Nazi...

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Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness What Do I Read Next?

The Stranger (1942), Albert Camus’ classic existentialist novel, illustrates the terrors of human decision-making in a godless...

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Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness Bibliography and Further Reading

Sources
Breggin, Peter, and Ginger Breggin, Talking Back to Prozac: What Doctors Aren’t Telling You about Today’s Most...

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Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness Bibliography (Masterpieces of American Literature)

Suggested Readings

Booklist. LXXXVI, July, 1990, p.2043.

Chicago Tribune. September 2, 1990, XIV, p.3.

Commentary. XC, November, 1990, p.54

Cronkite, Kathy. On the Edge of Darkness: Conversations About Conquering Depression. New York: Doubleday, 1994.

Karp, David Allen. Speaking of Sadness: Depression, Disconnection, and the Meanings of Illness. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.

Wurtzel, Elizabeth. Prozac Nation: Young and Depressed in America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin,...

(The entire section is 100 words.)