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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 304

The White Album by Joan Didion is a collection of essays on various topics. In the typical Didion style, the essays contain sharp observations on American culture, politics, and landscape, particularly in her home-state of California.

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The book is divided into parts, which more or less have a cohesive theme. The first part of the book, which is also titled "The White Album," recounts her experiences as a journalist and her own personal traumas regarding the Manson murders. Although Didion is known for essays and memoirs, she had a long and critically-acclaimed career as a journalist, mainly writing long-form feature articles. Didion could be considered one of the pioneers of creative-nonfiction, also called "new journalism," which was made popular by Gay Talese. Her contemporaries in the sub-genre include Truman Capote, Hunter S. Thompson, Norman Mailer, among others.

Some of the essays in the collection appear to be a singular homage to the rugged and beautiful California landscape and Didion's criticism of its political history and economic growth. In the first and second part of the book, Didion offers insights on Southern California culture and the seedy underbelly underneath the sunshine.

As a whole, The White Album is both a personal memoir and a journalistic endeavor, and this is due to her position in the American cultural landscape, especially during the 1960s and 1970s. For instance, she knew some of the victims of massacred perpetrated by Charles Manson, and the event occurred near Didion's then-residence.

In the collection, Didion shows that she is aware of her own success and place in the American literary and journalistic landscape. She displays this high level of self-awareness when she discusses feminist movements and her old neighborhood in Los Angeles. All together, The White Album is a mosaic that shows Didion's life and career, which reflects America's turbulent history.

The White Album

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1718

Joan Didion’s novels and journalistic writings, which express the dilemma of contemporary society, are difficult to dismiss. To some, Didion is a keen observer of American life; to others, she is merely a neurotic California writer, expressing the faddish, rootless character of a state still viewed by many as having a distinct, atypical voice in America. Yet, however one might view Didion’s writing, the impact of her voice and the skill with which she relates her impressions cannot be denied. Her collection The White Album drew critical praise for capturing the national neurosis which became most evident during the period in which these selections were written and about which they speak: 1966-1978. The reading public responded enthusiastically as well, making the book a rapid best-seller.

The title piece, the strongest in the collection, serves as an introduction to the volume. Didion begins “The White Album” by stringing together events which, because of their lack of cohesion, appear absurd; she then presents her thesis that “We live entirely . . . by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images, by the ’ideas’ with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria which is our actual experience.” Her own experiences illustrate that this narrative line can no longer be imposed on our lives. Between 1966 and 1971, she sees her responses as “improvised,” yet she recognizes that her education prevents her from functioning this way, without a “plot.” She requires a “script,” a narrative line, a movie, not “flash pictures in variable sequences.” It is this conflict which lies at the heart of the article and loosely unifies the entire collection.

Didion develops the title essay through film technique, offering prose snapshots of...

(The entire section contains 3222 words.)

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