The Year of Magical Thinking | Study Guide

Joan Didion

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The Year of Magical Thinking | Chapter 3 | Summary



Didion explores "the power of grief to derange the mind." She quotes studies comparing mourning to a state of mental illness. She admits there were periods after Dunne's death when she "was incapable of thinking rationally." She authorized an autopsy but could not permit his organs to be donated. She was bothered by the obituaries because she "had allowed other people to think he was dead." She gave away some of his clothes, but not all—she worried he might need them.


Didion worked for years as a journalist. She is trained to do research and she incorporates researched details throughout the book. This provides context to her personal experience. Didion is not the only person who has struggled after the death of a spouse, and she has medical evidence to prove it.

Didion says even her apparently rational decisions had an irrational underpinning. She was eager to authorize an autopsy, which many loved ones dread, because if "what had gone wrong was something simple ... they might still be able to fix it." She made a rational decision for an irrational reason.

Didion's grieving is an ongoing process. In Chapter 1 she gives the date of writing as October 4, 2004. In this chapter, after describing the struggle to give up Dunne's clothes and shoes, she says she has not tried again to get rid of his shoes "to determine ... if the thought has lost its power."

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