INNOCENCE, LOSS, AND RECOVERY IN THE ART OF JOAN DIDION (RECENT FICTION, FIGURE, NEW JOURNALISM)

MICHELLE CARBONE LORIS, Fordham University

Abstract

Joan Didion creates an image of a contemporary American Eve in her art. This figure of innocence sets forth the spiritual journey that her female protagonists make. Each protagonist begins her journey with a belief in the American dream. The protagonist's experiences shatter her trust in the cultural promise. In turn, these disillusionments make the protagonist aware of the need for personal responsibility and moral order in her life.^ The Introduction of this study establishes the critical material that underlies the image and journey of Didion's protagonists. First, there is California. The California setting at once embodies America's frontier myth of itself as a new Eden and exposes that story as fraudulent. Linked to the idea of America's myth are Didion's pioneer kinswomen. Experiences with Indian attacks, starvation, and death arm these women with the courage and determination needed to survive in the wilderness. These idealized females resemble scriptural Eve whose own story accompanies America's myth.^ Chapter One examines RUN RIVER as a story of Edenic loss. Sacramento's postwar transition from an agrarian to an industrial culture, and Lily and Everett's irresponsibilities become, for Lily, and experience of paradise lost. Everett's murder of Ryder, Lily's lover, and Everett's suicide teach Lily the need for discipline and integrity.^ Chapter Two analyzes PLAY IT AS IT LAYS to demonstrate the consequences of the loss of paradise. Hollywood's narcissistic society and Maria's self-absorption create her experience of exile in the California desert. In this wilderness, BZ's suicide and Maria's abortion and mental breakdown show her the wisdom of establishing selfrespect in the plain moral obligation of caring for her brain-damaged daughter.^ Chapter Three studies A BOOK OF COMMON PRAYER as a dramatization of Didion's frontier code of morality. This "wagon-train" morality obligates us to remember our loyalties to those we love. Charlotte, who gives up her life for her runaway daughter, Marin, inspires Grace's love. The novel is Grace's testament of love and loyalty for Charlotte.^ Chapter Four considers the essays of SLOUCHING TOWARDS BETHLEHEM and THE WHITE ALBUM as reflections of the disorder Didion experienced in contemporary America. ^

Subject Area

American literature

Recommended Citation

LORIS, MICHELLE CARBONE, "INNOCENCE, LOSS, AND RECOVERY IN THE ART OF JOAN DIDION (RECENT FICTION, FIGURE, NEW JOURNALISM)" (1984). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI8506344.
https://fordham.bepress.com/dissertations/AAI8506344

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