Please wait while we process your payment
If you don't see it, please check your spam folder. Sometimes it can end up there.
Don’t have an account?
Create Your Account
Sign up for your FREE 7-day trial
Already have an account? Log in
Choose Your Plan
$4.99/month + tax
$24.99/year + tax
Save over 50% with a SparkNotes PLUS Annual Plan!
for a group?
Get Annual Plans at a discount when you buy 2 or more!
$18.74 /subscription + tax
Subtotal $37.48 + tax
on 2-49 accounts
on 50-99 accounts
Want 100 or more?
for a customized plan.
You'll be billed after your free trial ends.
7-Day Free Trial
Renews December 7, 2023
November 30, 2023
Discounts (applied to next billing)
This is not a valid promo code.
(one code per order)
Annual Plan - Group Discount
SparkNotes Plus subscription is $4.99/month or $24.99/year as selected above. The free trial period is the first 7 days of your subscription. TO CANCEL YOUR SUBSCRIPTION AND AVOID BEING CHARGED, YOU MUST CANCEL BEFORE THE END OF THE FREE TRIAL PERIOD. You may cancel your subscription on your Subscription and Billing page or contact Customer Support at firstname.lastname@example.org. Your subscription will continue automatically once the free trial period is over. Free trial is available to new customers only.
For the next 7 days, you'll have access to awesome PLUS stuff like AP English test prep, No Fear Shakespeare translations and audio, a note-taking tool, personalized dashboard, & much more!
You’ve successfully purchased a group discount. Your group members can use the joining link below to redeem their group membership. You'll also receive an email with the link.
Members will be prompted to log in or create an account to redeem their group membership.
Thanks for creating a SparkNotes account! Continue to start your free trial.
Your PLUS subscription has expired
See discount terms and conditions.
Grief, Didion tells us, is never quite what we expect.
Though we know that the people close to us will die, we don’t look
beyond the days or weeks immediately following their deaths. We
expect to be crazy and inconsolable, but we don’t imagine that we
will be “literally crazy,” as Didion terms it, believing that we
have the power to bring a lost loved one back. We expect that the
funeral will be the greatest test of our strength, when in fact
the funeral is soothing, thanks to the comfort of others and the
meaningful nature of the event. The test comes in the weeks and
months following, when the mourning person must face a profound
loneliness and sense of meaninglessness, and must do so alone. As
a child, Didion had been fearful of the idea of meaninglessness
and found comfort in geology. The shifting and changing patterns
of the earth seemed inevitable and permanent, a notion Didion linked
to the Episcopal saying, “As it was in the beginning, is now and
ever shall be, world without end.” For Didion, the earth’s abiding
indifference was a comfort. While the destruction of human life
might cause personal sorrow, the world would always continue. After
she married and had a child, Didion found further comfort in domestic
routines, such as cooking meals and setting the table.
People dealing with grief think a great deal about self-pity,
Didion asserts. Self- pity, though common, is a practice almost
universally condemned by society. Didion had spent nearly all of
her time with John after they married, and her frequent impulse
to talk to him didn’t go away after he died. With no one to share
her thoughts with, she turns into herself, and that intense self-focus
leads naturally to self-pity. Though some people who have experienced
loss claim to feel the presence of the deceased, Didion never does.
On several occasions after John dies, she speaks to him as if he
were there, but she knows that, as a writer, imagining their dialogue comes
naturally to her. However, as she imagines the responses he might
give to her questions, Didion realizes that, while she thought she
knew all of John’s thoughts, she really only knew a fraction of them.
Before his death, John frequently told her that if something happened
to him she should stay in their apartment, keep her friends close,
and marry again within the year. But neither John nor Didion really
understood the implications of John’s command, as both were incapable
of imagining life without the other. Didion says “marriage is time,”
referring to the significance of their shared history. It is also,
she says, “the denial of time,” because since she was twenty-nine
Didion had always seen herself through John’s eyes. Now she must
see herself through other people’s eyes, and it makes her feel considerably
older. In death, she says, we mourn not only the loss of the loved
one but also the loss of ourselves.
Didion has begun to take stock of the past year and now
attempts to understand and draw a set of coherent conclusions from
her experiences. She realizes that the intensity of the shock she
felt at John’s death and her subsequent deranged reactions were
not only caused by the suddenness of her intense loss, but also
because she was jarred to realize that her expectations about grief
had been so misguided. On the surface, she had been able to function
without breaking down or becoming hysterical. In reality, she had
temporarily been mentally ill, able to press on only because she
deluded herself into thinking that she could bring John back. Didion
had not only been shocked by grief, but also by her reaction to
her own grief.
In dealing with John’s absence, Didion realizes how much
she communicated with him on a daily basis and how all that energy
has now been turned inward. This intense level of self-focus might
also be called self-pity, she worries. However, this powerful self-concern is
an inevitable consequence of losing someone with whom she shared
such a strong, unique bond. Didion is not only coping with the loss
of John, but also with the loss of their shared memory. Her sense
of self had been largely founded on her relationship—not because
she lacked a strong identity of her own, but because their emotional,
intellectual, creative, social, domestic, and daily lives were so
bound together. The loss of John forces Didion to evaluate who she
is without him, a daunting task, since she has not thought of herself
in that way for forty years. Didion’s general reluctance to engage
in behavior she deems indulgent makes her attempt to understand
herself as an individual separate from John feel like an act of
“self-pity,” but it is a necessary part of the healing process.
When Didion discusses meaninglessness, she isn’t talking
about an absence of meaning. Instead, she describes a way of looking
at the world with a proper sense of perspective, acknowledging that personal
tragedy seems insignificant when compared to massive geological
shifts. Changes that can seem huge or overwhelming seem small when
viewed within a broader perspective. Didion recalls how the indifference
of the natural world served as a comfort to Didion as a child. This
might seem like a strange concept, since many people find comfort
in exactly the opposite notion: that there is, in fact, a higher
consciousness that cares about our personal welfare and benevolently
controls our individual lives. However, Didion’s childhood worldview
still has religious overtones, as she takes comfort in the idea
that the world exists on such a huge scale that she, as a single
human being, could never fully comprehend it entirely. For someone
who always needs to be right and who fervently believes that research
can answer all questions, acknowledging that there are things in
the world that cannot be fathomed or understood, even through the
most diligent inquisition, is a profound shift in thinking and an
important step toward ending the process of magical thinking.
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Year of Magical Thinking!