The Year of Magical Thinking

The Year of Magical Thinking Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

Cool Customer (Motif)

After being called “a cool customer” by her social worker at the hospital, Didion adopts the moniker and uses it several times, usually with some irony, to refer to herself. It is at once an accurate description of her, a person who does not react in an intense outward manner but maintains a calm composure; a misreading of the pain that she feels inside; and a satire of the American consumerist system.

The "Correct Track" (Allegory)

After John’s death, Didion tries to keep herself from doing or thinking about things that take her too far away from present reality. She thinks of this as staying on a “correct track” and tries to prevent deviations onto “incorrect tracks” as she moves through her days and the various anxieties about Quintana’s illness.

The "Vortex Effect" (Allegory)

After John’s death and during the fraught time taking care of a seriously ill Quintana, Didion finds herself being sucked back into memories of happier times. She calls this the “the vortex effect” and generally tries to avoid things and places that would trigger it.

The "Gilded-Boy Story" (Allegory)

The "gilded-boy story" is described in a medical manual. It is told to brain trauma patients to test their psychological state. Basically, a boy is covered in gold foil and dies despite the efforts of others to save him. Didion comments on this story, finding it highly unsuitable for an ill person and quite meaningless as a story itself.

Literary Quotations

Didion uses several quotations from classic literature that she feels illuminates her situation. For example, she quotes from the Arthurian tale of Gawain: “I tell you that I shall not live two days,” and then proceeds to bring this quotation up again, sometimes with, sometimes without, making the reference to Gawain; thus it becomes part of the fabric of her own book.