Characters

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 425

As you are asking about characters, I will assume that you refer to Joan Didion's short story "The White Album," which gave its name to the larger collection of stories published in 1976 (which, as a collection, includes many diverse characters). This individual story's characters will primarily be discussed here,...

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As you are asking about characters, I will assume that you refer to Joan Didion's short story "The White Album," which gave its name to the larger collection of stories published in 1976 (which, as a collection, includes many diverse characters). This individual story's characters will primarily be discussed here, as they are several and notable.

"The White Album" is a literary essay with a cast of characters who appear in Didion's autobiographical experience in California during the 1960s. The first main character described is Didion herself. She describes herself by means of a psychiatric report (in the first section of the essay; she has a "fundamentally pessimistic, fatalistic, or depressive view of the world around her" (14). This worldview will inform the tone of the rest of her essay.

Didion encounters individuals who will exacerbate that fatalistic outlook, such as Linda Kasabian, who was a member of Charles Manson's "family". She served as a witness in the murder of Roman Polanski's wife, Sharon Tate, among other victims of Manson's family in southern California. Didion also quotes a transcript from an interview with Tommy and Paul Ferguson, who murdered actor Ramon Novarro in 1968.

The members of an iconic '60s band are also remembered in Didion's essay. She recalls "watching a band called the Doors record a rhythm track" (21). Didion regards the Doors as champions of the idea of "apocalyptic" and transformative sex.

Early Black Panther leaders also figure prominently in Didion's essay. Didion describes meeting Huey Newton at the Alameda County jail when he was twenty-five, and later, Eldridge Cleaver in his San Francisco apartment. Both were leaders of the Black Panther movement who were involved with altercations with the police, ending in multiple casualties on different occasions. Didion does not claim guilt or innocence of either, but only recounts her visits with them in vivid detail. On her visit to Eldridge, she writes:

"We discussed the advertising budget, and we discussed the bookstores in which copies were or were not available. It was not an unusual discussion between writers, with the difference that one of the writers had his parole officer there," (34).

Others whom Didion encounters include a nameless would-be revolutionary: "a nice looking boy, fired with his task" (41) at the College of San Mateo. Didion pauses to consider the notorious affluence of the San Mateo region, and wonders what would be the profitability or aim of his group holding a press conference. Overall, Didion's tone and collection of characters render her essay tragic, and a sort of literary requiem for California in the 1960s.

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