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An Analysis of The Narrative Technique in after Life by Joan Didion

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Creating a story world is a narrative technique often used by authors to help situate the reader into the world of the literary piece. Detailing story worlds are a crucial part to most literary works because not only does it help the reader visualize whatever he or she is reading, but it also enables the author to construct a mood surrounding the story. In the non-fiction work, “After Life” by Joan Didion, Didion uses the narrative technique of story world by building ordinary story worlds to juxtapose with non-ordinary situations, and in doing so demonstrating that life can have unexpected twists of events which can be hard to grasp.

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By creating a story world consisting of “ordinary instan[ces]” (4), Didion is able to show how she was unable to grasp the surrealism of something unexpected happening in an expected situation. She says, “it was, in fact, the ordinary nature of everything preceding the event that prevented me from truly believing it had happened…” (4). In this quote, Didion says that she is unable to fathom the death of her husband because of how familiar the setting she was in is. She describes the setting as “home….[where] we were safe through the night” (7). The fact that Didian builds this story world as an ordinary home with ordinary activity such as sitting by the fire, and she juxtaposes this with the unexpected event of her husband going into cardiac arrest. Several times throughout the course of the paper, Didian explains in great details of her surroundings, from the hospital room, to her bedroom that she once shared with her husband. The way she constructs the stor worlds of these different scenarios give an impression of ordinary scenes that most people have probably experienced.

By creating this kind of familiar story world, where most readers would be able to resonate with the surroundings, Didian is able to express to the readers the shock she felt of having experiencing a surprising event. To further her point, Didian also describes the story worlds of “9/11”, explaining that when 9/11 happened, residents described the story world as being an “ordinary beautiful September day” (6). This shows that even in a familiar surrounding, people are subject to unexpected twists, which can leave them feeling “dumbstruck” (6).

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Didian concludes her narrative by painting the story world of an ordinary scene that was familiar to her which was “the house…which [they] had lived when [they] were first married” (16). She describes the “swell of clear water” which her and her husband used to swim in. After creating that familiar surrounding, she ends it by saying that she anticipated “slipping into the sea around [her and her husband]”, and that she “did not anticipate cardiac arrest at the dinner table” (16), which shows that when one is used to a familiar surrounding, they do not fear unexpected events to happen. However, when unexpected events do occur, it can be shocking for those who are affected.

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An Analysis of the Narrative Technique in After Life by Joan Didion. (2018, May 26). GradesFixer. Retrieved May 27, 2023, from
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