Why does Joan Didion write? How does she compare to George Orwell in his essay about why he writes?

In “Why I Write,” Didion explains that she writes to process her thoughts and the world around her. She feels that grammar has an “infinite power” and that the arrangement of words tells her what’s going on in the pictures in her mind. Her motivations for writing reflect many of those that Orwell discusses in his essay with the same title, particularly sheer egoism and aesthetic enthusiasm.

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In her essay “Why I Write,” Joan Didion explains her motives for writing as follows:

I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.

As she goes on to describe her relationship with thinking and memory, it becomes clear that writing is a necessary outlet for her, a way for her to process the complex world around her. She describes her creative process by explaining that images in her mind tell her how to arrange words on the page and that the words on the page tell her what is going on in the picture in her mind.

In many ways, Didion’s motivations reflect what George Orwell explains in his essay “Why I Write” as the four great motives for writing: sheer egoism, aesthetic enthusiasm, historical impulse, and political purpose. Orwell states that he is “a person in whom the first three motives would outweigh the fourth.” He did not truly explore political purposes until the Spanish Civil War, after which he intentionally fused political and artistic purposes in his books.

Didion admits to and agrees with Orwell’s point about egoism, as she says,

In many ways, writing is the act of saying I, of imposing oneself upon other people, of saying listen to me, see it my way, change your mind.

Didion’s discussion of images also reflects Orwell’s point about aesthetic enthusiasm as a motivating force, as he writes that writers are focused on the “right arrangement” of words, which is seen in Didion’s discussion of the “infinite power” of grammar to explain the meaning of images in the mind.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on February 22, 2021
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