Joan Didion was born in Sacramento, CA, in 1934, the daughter of an officer in the Army Air Corps. From the start of her life, Didion took an interest in reading and writing. In fact, Didion was “a shy, bookish child… Didion spent her teenage years typing out Ernest Hemingway stories to learn how sentences work” (thejoandidion.com). Later on, Didion attended the University of California, Berkeley, where she obtained a degree in English and won an essay contest sponsored by Vogue magazine. The prize was a research assistant job at the magazine, where Didion would work for more than a decade. Eventually, Didion worked her way up to an associate features editor position, which is the opportunity that brought her to New York City in the first place. At the same time, she published articles in other magazines and wrote her first novel, Run River (1963). Although the novel sold poorly, “it attracted favorable reviews, and she was offered a contract to write a second book” (achievement.org)
Didion’s first volume of essays, entitled Slouching Towards Bethlehem, was published in 1968 and was a collection of her feelings about the counterculture of the 1960s. The New York Times referred to it as “a rich display of some of the best prose written today in this country” (thejoandidion.com). Among these essays was a popular work, “Goodbye to All That,” reminiscing about her days of living in the city. This essay was “a work of such candid and penetrating prose that it soon became the gold standard for personal essays” (goodbyetonycbook.com). Didion’s text captivated and enchanted readers because, “like no other story before it, Didion’s tale of loving and leaving New York captured the mesmerizing allure Manhattan has always had for writers, poets, and wandering spirits” (goodbyetonycbook.com). Her essay is a text that everyone can enjoy and relate to in some way, especially those residing in New York.
After all of her initial success, Didion and her husband, John Gregory Duhn, decided to collaborate together for the first time. Didion and Dunne wrote the screenplay for the film Panic in Needle Park (1971). This film, “set among homeless drug addicts in New York City, introduced audiences to the actor Al Pacino. Their work on the film was much admired, and the pair would become one of Hollywood’s most sought-after screenwriting teams, a lucrative sideline to their journalism and fiction” (achievement.org). As a power couple, the two decided to move back to New York and Didion wrote about her observations of the city in After Henry. Joan Didion and John Gregory Duhn “often found themselves in the position of explaining New York to Californians and California to New Yorkers” (achievement.org) Essentially, the couple was able to assimilate two different lifestyles.
Throughout her time as a novelist, essayist, and memoirist, “Didion’s work, which has been associated with the ‘New Journalism’ movement, has been recognized on many occasions” (thejoandidion.com). Didion received “the American Academy of Arts & Letters Gold Medal in Criticism and Belles Letters in 2005” and in addition, she won “the National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters in 2007” (thejoandidion.com). Also, she received an honorary Doctor of Letters from Harvard University in 2009 and an honorary degree from Yale in 2011. In 2013, she was awarded a National Medal of Arts and Humanities by President Obama, and the PEN Center USA’s Lifetime Achievement Award. (thejoandidion.com)
ANALYSIS of “Goodbye to All That”
“Goodbye to All That” PDF: https://www.academia.edu/34057378/Joan_Didion_Goodbye_to_All_That
The dreamlike city of New York leads to mass migrations of diverse groups of young people into the city in order to fulfill their dreams and aspirations. These desires to fulfill dreams lead to self-transformations whether these transformations work out for the better or for the worse. New York City captivates you with a sense of wonder, but it is not all it seems to be once one grows older and actually gets to know New York City which is shown in Joan Didion’s “Goodbye to All That.”
Joan Didion’s “Goodbye to All That” shows what it means to be young in New York and how easy it is to grow out of it in the blink of an eye. This essay begins with a passion of something newly discovered. Didion’s eyes were opened up to a new world when she arrived in New York City. As someone who is young in this grand city of dreams, she has a certainty that this is the one place where one can become exactly who she is meant to be.
Didion starts off by discussing how she can remember when New York began for her, but cannot remember the moment it ended. In the beginning, even the summer rain in New York City was exotic to her and excited her because she came from the west where there was no summer rain. However, these days where she was excited about every little thing and she knew little to nothing about the city were the happier days compared to the ones that came later. Didion shows how the city transforms her and how she realizes that she does not belong in this city. Didion writes, “I did not belong there, did not come from there, but when you are twenty-two or twenty-three, you figure that later you will have a high emotional balance, and be able to pay whatever it costs” (888). This quotation shows that Didion believes in the possibilities that something extraordinary can happen any minute. New York tends to captivate one in a sense of wonder and Didion is willing to do whatever it takes just to stay here and fulfill her dreams. In fact, she writes that she could stay up all night and make mistakes and none of it would count. Essentially, it never occurs to her that she was in fact living a real life in New York City. Didion writes about New York and states that, “It was an infinitely romantic notion, the mysterious nexus of all love and money and power, the shining and perishable dream itself” (890). Once again, Didion captures the power that the city holds over young people with dreams and aspirations.
However, at one point, this fascination expires and Didion realizes her true reality. At one point, the city loses its magic and the pressures of New York’s hectic and grand life wear thin. Friends move away, financial issues ensue, and dreams become harder and harder to reach. Didion mentions that she could no longer sit in little bars, listen to people, and she loses interest in people telling her about the advances that they had received. She would avoid people and places and cut herself off from her city life and eventually becomes depressed. Essentially, once she gets used to living in the city, she realizes that it is not all it was meant out to be. The city of wonder and dreams that she once saw, was not her reality anymore. Ultimately, she decides to go away with her husband. Instead of being gone for just a few short months, they end up moving to Los Angeles permanently because Didion’s transformation in New York was ultimately a negative one since she never ends up growing as a person in the way that she had hoped. In fact, her life seems to be the same every single day and she stays at a standstill to the point of reaching depression.
“About Joan Didion.” Joan Didion, www.thejoandidion.com/about.
Didion, Joan. “Goodbye to All That.” Writing New York a Literary
Anthology, by Phillip Lopate, Library of America, 2008, pp. 886–895.
“Goodbye to All That.” Goodbye to All That, goodbyetonycbook.com.
“Joan Didion.” Academy of Achievement,