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Slouching Towards Bethlehem is a collection of essays by Joan Didion, which was first published in 1968. The essays describe her experiences in California through the 1960s. Joan Didion is an American author renowned for her literary journalism and novels. She was born on December 5, 1934 in Sacramento California to Frank Reese and Eudene Didion. She mainly bases her writing on cultural chaos and American morals, where the dominant theme for all her works is self and social fragmentation. This paper reviews Didion’s works by briefly analyzing three of her essays and determining how well the author fuses them to fit and convey her message. Additionally, it will focus on the artistic use of language and current issues by the author to communicate her theme.
Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream
In this essay, Didion tells a true story of an unspecified couple who get married and later their marriage turns into murder. She explains of Southern California as an “alien place”, since is had initially been desert as a farmland and later reclaimed and turned into suburbs (Lombardi and Houston 40). The author’s vivid description of the sprawl of the suburbs shows the impossibility of having an authentic life, which in turn hinders happiness within and becomes a complete motivation of murder in the story. In the story, a woman named Lucille Miller is accused of murdering her husband in a very mysterious way. The man was burnt to death while sleeping in the car as he was drenched with gasoline. Didion explains that Lucille is having a secret affair with another person and thus commits the crime to get a chance to be with the secret lover. The woman is found guilty and is sent to the California Institution for Women at Frontera. Didion frankly describes the events that take place on both sides and keeps the reader guessing what is going to be performed, though the end result is a guilty verdict (BookRags para 2).
After the tragic death of Gordon, it takes the police two weeks to investigate on his death and they reveal the reality of the story. They unearth cases of infidelity and unusual confederacies, which have been revolving around Lucile’s home. This attracts the attention of the public because it resembles their personal lives. This signifies the blind acceptance of immoralities to continue by the Californians. She makes it clear that it is unlikely for the condition to change, unless the people transform their lifestyles (Lombardi and Houston 41).
In this essay, Didion objects to the traditional conception of morality, that it is the knowledge of right and wrong, stressing that diffent people can have differet meanings of the same. To illustrate her points, she uses Fuchs, a british traitor who had leaked nuclear secrets to the soviets; and Rosenburg, who was a Nazi administrator of the Eastern Europe, where most of the terrible and murderers activties were performed during World War II by the Germans (Vines para 2). The two assailants tried to justify their actions by claiming that they were trying to do as their morality demanded. After these examples, Didion goes further to explain what Jesus Christ said to jusify his morality. Through her argument, it can be inferred that morality varies from one person to the other.
The Seacoast of Despair
From the onset of this essay, Didion rejects the happy and comfortable lifestyles of the Americans and the developed nations and takes the reader beyond the glamour of the gates to expose the ugliness of these regions. According to Didion, it seems that men are used to show their wealth to exclude women. This reminds her of the West where the society privileges men and the general masculine thinking and marginalizes women on matters related to decision making. This reveals the actuality of the fact that money can buy everything else but not happiness. The essay can be reckoned to be one of those that comments on the soiled affluent and their habits of making pretentious mansions in order to show off their riches. At the end Didion sees the wealth as a failed attempt to get happiness by oppressing women.
How the Different Essays Fit Together
As a journalist and essayist, Didion focuses on the very minute details of both her life and the society and then shows the reader how these relate to the outside world. The issue of immorality and arrogance is highlighted in all the three essays. In the essay Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream, Didion exposes the inhuman nature of Lucille in the murder of her husband by letting him burn in the car. In the essay, Lucille is portrayed as a barbaric character that does not care about humanity. In the essay On the Morality, Didion highlights the different views that people take to justify their immoral actions. In the third essay, she ridicules the brutality of the wealthy tycoons who oppress the underprivileged in their efforts to find happiness. This essay therefore can be coined together with the two earlier mentioned to develop the theme of injustices within the American society.
Use of Language and Current Events in the Essays
Throughout her essays, Didion’s essay style can be described as melancholic, ironic, mostly sad but not sentimental, with the capacity of giving amazing clarity, despite the fact that sometimes it might fail to figure out its subject (Lombardi and Houston 37). Through her language, she is able to vividly create imaginary pictures, which help the reader comprehend the essays. It also improves her explanation as the reader can be able to grasp what he or she is reading. Didion does not engage in excessive use of figures of speech. This is an additional advantage, because the essays do not puzzle the reader. She also uses simple, clear and coherent English that can be understood by the majority.
Generally, it can be inferred that Joan Didion’s works are among the most outstanding in America. Through her collection essays, Slouching Towards Bethlehem, she has been able to explore many topics ranging from murder to morality, and from the perception of self-respect to the morals of the external world. Through the essays she is able to give a commentary on lifestyles, life expectations and life as a whole.. As earlier discussed in the three essays, her essays are personal and full of insights, which make them to be ridiculed by readers as to why Didion generalizes her experiences to the entire populace.
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