What does Didion see when she visits Pearl Harbor?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Joan Didion was an advocate of New Journalism, a type of writing that was not as objective as traditional journalism. It included a construction of scenes, full use of dialogue, and the minor and contingent details that often enhance a scene or description of a person. The use of these techniques had as its purpose the recreation of the full reality of what was being reported, while adding an impact upon the reader.

In her Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Didion expresses her discomfiture with the burgeoning counter-culture of California and the changes to the values that she remembers. Through her recording of memories in "Personals" and "Seven Places of the Mind," she provides a defense of positive values. With subjective journalism, Didion presents through storytelling her experiences visiting such places as Alcatraz. When she travels to Pearl Harbor, she realizes how little the attack on this naval base affected Americans. She goes to the U.S. Arizona Memorial and to the Pacific Aviation Museum; while there, Didion describes how the locals exploit the tourists in order to make a profit with no regard to the sanctity of the site. Yet, in her suggestion that the events of December 7, 1941, have lost importance to many, there are, nevertheless, suggestions that many have not forgotten and have come to mourn the loss of a loved one of their families. Describing how people do and will always remember Didion writes,

...now that the graves are starting to settle, newcomers are arriving from the dense jungles of Vietnam.

Didion creates one tension in her essay between the locales who exploit tourists and the mourning relatives, and another tension between post-World War II memories and the beginnings of a very unpopular Vietnam War.

For some the Hawaiian islands are a place of fantasy; however, for others such as Joan Didion, the sunken USS Arizona, with its dead buried under the sea, is a place for the "profound meditation on infamous betrayals and the death of innocence" as is all war.

Read the study guide:
Slouching Towards Bethlehem

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