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Joan Didion's "On Morality"

Essay about morality
by

G Morri

on 17 January 2013

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Transcript of Joan Didion's "On Morality"

by Joan Didion Paragraphs 1, 2 Paragraph 2 and 3 Paragraph 4 Paragraph 5 Didion relates the tone of the story she has just told to desert stories in general, but suggests sounds of the desert in prayer sings, jukebox music, imaginary rattlesnakes that are actually either a faucet, rustling paper, the wind. She contrasts her imagination with her husband's realistic ideas. Didion opens with her "occasion": she has been asked to write about "morality" by Phi Beta Kappa's magazine The American Scholar, and she is in Death Valley, and her mind moves from this abstract word "morality" to the arena of "particulars," details, specifics. Writers, by their very natures, appreciate particulars, details, and specifics. Didion now recounts a recent story that connects to morality and her fondness for particulars. Didion mentions "social code" here and associates that with "wagon-train morality," the code that values survival and responsibility over ideals, for example, the wagon train people who might need to resort to cannibalism to survive.

Didion asserts that we learned that the Donnar Party and Jayhawkers bore some responsibility for the events that happened to them, but she argues against such notions. Didion continues to use the desert as motif to her discussion. She doesn't seem to like this environment, and she keeps bringing in stories to her essay. Here, she tells the story of divers, a drowning victim, and a waiting widow. The story evokes fearful images of madness. Paragraph 6 "On Morality" Brave New World connection: In Chapter 1, "...some sort of general idea they must have, if they were to do their work intelligently--though as little of one, if they were to be good and happy members of society...for particulars make for virtue and happiness; generalities are intellectually necessary evils. Paragraph 7 Didion directly confronts morality by connecting it to the "air" of her environment Paragraph 8 Didion makes her strongest points about morality here in paragraphs 7 - 9.

In Paragraph 7 she questions following our own consciences. Paragraph 9 Didion argues that "we have no way of knowing" about morality, about what is good, right, correct. She reflects "moral relativism" in her opening to this paragraph. Paragraph 9 Didion seems concerned about how often we encounter the topic of morality in press, TV, casual talks, in questions about power politics, public policy, anything. Paragraph 9 Didion closes her essay with words that suggest her pessimism about how society views morality.
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