Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 332
Joan Didion is a native Californian whose essays are often about that state and the western-side of the US more generally. Didion has a keen eye for popular culture but also finds timeless truths, and many of the essays in The White Album were written during or are referencing events of the 1960s. As a key figure in what became known as the New Journalism, many of her observations are about writing itself. "We tell ourselves stories in order to live" is one of its most often quoted lines. She goes on:
We look for the sermon in the suicide, for the social or moral lesson in the murder of five . . . . We live entirely, especially if we are writers, 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.
Two of the essays take places in specific places outside of California. One is about Hawaii; in it, she speculates about the association of a writer to a place as a kind of possession:
A place belongs forever to whoever claims it hardest, remembers it most obsessively, wrenches it from itself, shapes it, renders it, loves it so radically that he remakes it in his own image.
The power of a single constructed place, its purpose to move water, gripped her longer than anticipated.
Since . . . I first saw the Hoover Dam, its image has never been entirely absent from my inner eye . . . . Suddenly the dam will materialize, its pristine concave face gleaming against the harsh rusts and taupes and mauves of that rock canyon hundreds and thousands of miles from where I am.
The last part of the book returns to the 60s, after it ended, as she wonders if it should even be a goal any longer to try to make coherent sense in an age of senseless randomness. Yet, Didion continues trying to shed some light on the path her readers will walk.
Unlock This Study Guide Now
- 30,000+ book summaries
- 20% study tools discount
- Ad-free content
- PDF downloads
- 300,000+ answers
- 5-star customer support