Search Menu


Key Facts

full title ·  The Year of Magical Thinking

author · Joan Didion

type of work · Memoir/Essay

genre · Memoir, Grief literature

language · English

time and place written · New York, October 2004 to January 2005

date of first publication · October 4, 2005

publisher · Alfred A. Knopf

narrator · Joan Didion

point of view · First person

tone · Introspective, melancholy, matter-of-fact

tense · Present

setting (time) · December 2003 through December 2004; various times in flashback

setting (place) · New York City and Los Angeles; various locations in flashback

protagonist · Joan Didion

major conflict · Journalist Joan Didion attempts to come to terms with her grief over the sudden death of her husband, John, and her adult daughter Quintana’s serious illness.

rising action · Didion must cope with the sudden shock and aftermath of her husband John’s death while caring for her ailing daughter, Quintana.

climax · Quintana collapses and undergoes neurosurgery, requiring Didion to fly to Los Angeles to be with her daughter while still reeling from the death of her husband.

falling action · As Quintana’s health begins to improve, Joan Didion begins to come to terms with the feelings of helplessness and insanity that dominated the year after her husband’s death.

themes · Grief as a state of temporary mental illness, the pathology of grief in American culture, the role of family relationships in shaping individual identity

motifs · Magical thinking, the vortex effect, the ordinary instant

symbols · Waves, flowers

foreshadowing · After she first tells Quintana about her father’s death, Didion reveals that she will have to tell her daughter about her father’s death three times before Quintana absorbs the news.

More Help

Previous Next

Readers' Notes allow users to add their own analysis and insights to our SparkNotes—and to discuss those ideas with one another. Have a novel take or think we left something out? Add a Readers' Note!