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William Styron. American, 1925-2006 Famous Author : The Confessions of Nat Turner (Pulitzer Prize) & Sophie’s Choice (National Book Award…and a movie with Meryl Streep !) Actually became more influential after publishing Darkness Visible. Darkness Visible. Published in 1990

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william styron
William Styron
  • American, 1925-2006
  • Famous Author: The Confessions of Nat Turner (Pulitzer Prize) & Sophie’s Choice (National Book Award…and a movie with Meryl Streep!)
  • Actually became more influential after publishing Darkness Visible
darkness visible
Darkness Visible

Published in 1990

Memoir of Styron’s own battle with major depression – what caused it and how it affected him – written to lessen the stigma of depressive disorders and suicide

Grew from op-ed piece in New York Times about the suicide of Italian writer Primo Levi (whom Styron defended against critics), and from subsequent Vanity Fair article about his own struggles with mental illness

reversing the gaze
Reversing the Gaze

Styron shows both sides of the gaze, reversing it:

(1) He describes his friends’ battles with depression – the third person gaze of the outsider

(2) He then describes his own descent into depression that ended up putting him in the hospital – the first person gaze, or the experience of madness from the inside

His insider perspective produces a radically new view of mental illness…


“But my behavior was really the result of the illness, which had progressed far enough to produce some of its most famous and sinister hallmarks: confusion, failure of mental focusand lapse of memory…my entire mind would be dominated by anarchic disconnections…there was something that resembled bifurcation of mood: lucidity of sorts in the early hours of the day, gathering murk in the afternoon and evening” (14).

  • Diction shows:
    • Depression as a mental split: “disconnections,” “bifurcation”
    • Which leads to loss of cognition: “lapse”
    • And confusion: “confusion”, “failure of mental focus,” “gathering murk”
depression as brainstorm not blues
Depression as “Brainstorm” not “Blues”

“Told that someone’s mood disorder has evolved in a storm–a veritable howling tempest in the brain, which is indeed what a clinical depression resembles like nothing else–even the uninformed layman might display sympathy rather than the standard reaction that ‘depression’ evokes, something akin to ‘So what?’ or ‘You’ll pull out of it’ or ‘We all have bad days’” (38).

Opposite view of popular media – Styron is attempting to change common perceptions that depression is a disorder of weakness.

works cited
Works Cited

Styron, William. Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness. New York: Vintage Books, 1990. Print.

“William Styron.” PBS American Masters. Thirteen Educational Broadcasting Association, 8 October 2002. Web. 1 May 2013.