Joan Didion, the author of Let Me Tell You What I Mean, doubles up as the main character in the stories presented in the book, as she plays the role of the narrator. For example, in Alicia and the Underground Press, Didion plays the role of the narrator, who is also the main character.

She also narrates Getting Serenity, as the main character, where she narrates her various experiences, such as her encounter with gamblers anonymous. The trend is repeated in most of the other stories, such as A Trip to Xanadu and On Being Unchosen by the College of One’s Choice, effectively making her the main character in the text.

Let Me Tell You What I Mean is an amalgamation of twelve stories authored by Didion. The stories have distinct plots, narrating different experiences in diverse settings. However, the events presented in the text revolve around the narrator’s life. In Alicia and the Underground Press, for example, the narrator offers her views of the press and presents concerns on the lack of credibility in the modern press.

In, A Trip to Xanadu, the narrator recounts their childhood experiences in California. The narrator recounts their visit to the fabled San Simeon castle, describing it as “the phantasmagoric barony that William Randolph Hearst made for himself on the sunburned hills above the San Luis Obispo County coast” (Didion 29).

In the narration, Didion says that she had looked up the castle countless times as a child. She says that when finally, she saw it as a child, “it was what I expected, and it was not” (Didion 30). This observation presents a duality in Didion’s observations regarding the castle.

The plot continues in the rest of the text, showcasing the narrator’s diverse experiences. On Being Unchosen by the College of One’s Choice, she narrates how she missed a chance at her college of choice, while in Pretty Nancy she narrates the experiences of Nancy Regan at the office of the U.S first lady. She highlights the public scrutiny that comes with such as office, such as when a news reporter asked Nancy what she would select for flowers.

The book also contains the experiences of men, apart from its distinctiveness on experiences of women, who are represented by Didion as the narrator. In the story, Fathers, Sons, Screaming Eagles, Didion opens her narration with her interaction with Skip Skivington, one of the attendants at a hotel that she was staying in Las Vegas, Nevada. Didion also tackles the question of why she writes in the story Why I Write. She quotes George Orwell, saying that “I like the sound of the words” (Didion 30). This statement explains her passion for writing. It is also meant to show that writing is a natural thing to her.


In the book, Didion handles several themes. One of the themes is the credibility of modern media and its ability to present the truth to the masses. Didion says that she struggles with finding any credible information in the media. However, she mentions a few media stations, which, as she says, she still finds credible enough and worth listening to.

A second theme presented in the book is the theme of women empowerment. In this theme, Didion presents her own experiences with empowerment, such as in the On Being Unchosen by the College of One’s Choice story. From the story, it is evident that Didion advocates for the empowerment of women, noting that college education is one of the most fundamental and basic ways in which women empowerment should be propped.

In the theme of women empowerment, Didion also uses the cases of Nancy Regan to show women empowerment. She narrates the experiences of Nancy during her time at the office of the first lady to showcase why women empowerment is a critical subject.

The other theme presented in Let Me Tell You What I Mean is the theme of writing and storytelling. Didion even had a story on this theme in the book. She opens the story with her experiences at 19 years during the fall of 1954, where she narrates the kickstart of her writing career.

She says that Mark Schorer’s English 106A, where she kickstarted her writing career, was a “kind of “writers’ workshop” which met for discussion three hours a week and required that each student produce, over the course of the semester, at least five short stories” (Didion 53). This statement explains how Didion got into her writing career while also reinforcing the writing and storytelling theme. The other instance that reinforces the writing and storytelling theme is Didion’s mention of George Orwell as her mentor in the writing industry.

To conclude, Didion’s Let Me Tell You What I Mean presents her characterization in diverse experiences and settings. The plot also narrates the different experiences, as Didion tries to explain what she means by presenting different versions of herself in various intervals of her life.

The author presents several themes through the book such as media, women empowerment, and storytelling. She depicts the irregularities in the media that make it difficult to find any reliable information in the media. Didion also uses her stories to further the theme of women empowerment which she perceives as a critical aspect of society. The theme of writing and storytelling are seen through her life journey.

Works Cited

Didion, Joan. Let Me Tell You What I Mean. 2021. 

author avatar
William Anderson (Schoolworkhelper Editorial Team)
William completed his Bachelor of Science and Master of Arts in 2013. He current serves as a lecturer, tutor and freelance writer. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, walking his dog and parasailing. Article last reviewed: 2022 | St. Rosemary Institution © 2010-2024 | Creative Commons 4.0

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