thinking as small children think, as if my thoughts or wishes had
the power to reverse the narrative, change the outcome. In my case
this disordered thinking had been covert, noticed I think by no
one else, hidden even from me, but it had been, in retrospect, both
urgent and constant.
Didion first describes magical thinking
at the beginning of chapter 3, while looking
back on the period immediately following John’s death. During that
time, she engaged in a pattern of irrational thinking, in which
she believed that her wishes had the power to change reality. She
thought that, by wanting John to come back, she would actually be
able to bring him back from the dead. Didion’s depiction of magical
thinking supports her claim that grief is a state of temporary mental
illness, during which people engage in disordered, absurd thinking.
Didion makes an important distinction by emphasizing that the wishful
thinking itself is not the problem, but rather her sincere belief
that her thinking could alter reality. She also underscores the
idea that her magical thinking had an urgent quality: it was not
simply wishful daydreaming. In Didion’s mind, the purpose of her
magical thinking—to bring John back from the dead—had to be achieved
as soon as possible.
Didion emphasizes two key aspects of magical thinking:
one, that it is hidden from view; and two, that it is constant.
Didion did not tell anyone about her beliefs, nor did she even acknowledge
to herself that she was engaging in a pattern of irrational thinking. Instead,
the activity was buried deep within her subconscious, hidden from
her conscious mind to the point that she didn’t realize the degree
to which she was delusional. Additionally, magical thinking is constant.
Didion didn’t engage in magical thinking occasionally, while lost
in thought. Her delusional thinking represented a persistent and
thus overwhelming need to correct the outcome of John’s death and
Quintana’s illness. The concealed, constant nature of magical thinking
likens it to mental illness in its ability to overtake the grieving
person’s perception while remaining compartmentalized from her conscious