Joan Didion and Sara Suleri's Meatless Days
Yishane Lee '91 (English 137, 1990)
It is perhaps Didion who comes the closest to Suleri in aim and philosophy. Nonsensical violence and mind-altering drugs saturating the tumultuous era of the '60s that she writes about is channeled into Didion's own life, breaking down her sanity and making her question the meaning of everything, including her own selfhood. The two histories are woven together just as Suleri weaves Pakistan into her family's life, for the haphazard and random nature of the '60s in the U.S. reflects onto Didion's inner psyche, and vice versa. Didion, too, seems hesitant about extraneous interpretation of people and events: she presents things just as they happen, randomly and without hints.
But neither woman can claim they made no analyses whatsoever, however slight; for despite their emphases on a sort of journalistic reportage, Suleri and Didion have written deeply personal and private works. Both women delve into their own beings -- and Suleri also combs her family's -- to find that they are interconnected with outside events. Both play with time, refashioning it and suiting it to their own needs; both rely on memory to extract meanings and events to relate to the reader. Finally, both "tell stories in order to live," as Didion writes in her opening sentence, so that some sort of personal goal is reached: for Suleri Meatless Days was a devotional work, memorializing the histories of both her family and Pakistan, for Didion The White Album seemed to be an attempt to make sense of the events of California in the '60s as well as of her own life.
Last modified 18 May 2001