Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 689
Inez Christian Victor
Inez Christian Victor, an attractive member of an entrenched, wealthy Hawaiian family that lacks warmth and closeness. At the age of twenty, in 1955, she weds Harry Victor, who in 1969 becomes a U.S. senator and is later considered to be presidential material. Politics, she decides, costs her her memory and privacy. Consequently, she looks for intimacy in an intermittent affair with Jack Lovett, who, however, as an international adventurer is rarely available. After his death, she decides to assist refugees in Kuala Lumpur, with whom she can identify emotionally.
Paul Christian, a ruthless aristocrat whose business interests often take him away from Hawaii. Obsessed with protecting his wealth and power, he not only drives away his wife and his daughter Inez but, in 1975, also kills his other daughter, Janet, for making land deals with Japanese American entrepreneur Wendell Omura. He is placed in a state asylum.
Carol Christian, a California model who, in 1934, marries Paul Christian. Naïvely expecting to be embraced by the people of privilege in Hawaii, instead she remains an outsider. Out of loneliness, she often keeps her young children at home with her. Still uncomfortable in a society that ignores her, she finally abandons the islands and starts a career, booking celebrities for radio interviews in San Francisco. After Janet’s wedding, word comes of Carol’s death in a plane crash near Reno, Nevada.
Janet “Nezzie” Christian Ziegler
Janet “Nezzie” Christian Ziegler, Carol’s younger daughter. Disturbed by her mother’s absence, she looks for stability in real estate. She marries Dick Ziegler, who once made a modest fortune in Hong Kong, but undercuts his business with the complicity of Omura and her uncle Dwight. She is shot to death by her father for frustrating his dynastic plans.
Harry Victor, who succeeds so well as a liberal in the Justice Department that he becomes a senator and in 1972 is spoken of as a possible presidential candidate. In the process of becoming a public figure, his sense of personal identity and his performance as husband and father suffer. He loses his family but becomes special envoy to the Common Market.
Adlai Victor, Inez’s directionless son. He is responsible for an accident that costs a fifteen-year-old girl one eye and a kidney. Sometimes he claims to be attending an “alternative” Boston college as if he were a liberal, but finally he joins the establishment as a clerk for a federal judge.
Jessica Victor, Adlai’s twin sister and a heroin addict. At the age of eighteen, she goes to Vietnam even as the war there is worsening. She has to be rescued as an “escorted orphan,” just before the general evacuation.
Billy Dillon, a public relations front man and arranger of photo opportunities for Harry Victor. He considers Inez’s interest in refugees to be too controversial and makes her a consultant on embassy paintings. He tries to prevent Paul Christian from having to stand trial, endeavoring to cover up the business connections and racism behind the murders of Wendell Omura and Janet.
Jack Lovett, a handsome adventurer, twice divorced. His mysterious occupation as an international consultant seems connected with CIA control of weapons and fuel. He sees war as a commercial enterprise and claims to be devoid of ethics and emotion, except for his love for Inez ever since they met in Honolulu in 1952. At Inez’s request, he brings Jessica safely out of Vietnam. In Jakarta, finally together with Inez, he drowns accidentally in the shallow end of a hotel swimming...
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Joan Didion, who knew Inez when they both worked at Vogue magazine in 1960. While teaching at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1975, she reads of Janet’s murder, then is summoned by Inez to hear her chronicle of family tragedies in the hope of extracting some meaning from all that has happened. She serves primarily as a listener and sympathetic but limited witness who allows Inez to reveal whatever she wants to and can about her life among powerful landholders and politicians.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1628
Democracy chronicles a woman's search for identity during America's turbulent 1960s and 1970s. It is a quest that is completed in 1975, soon after the final evacuation of American troops from Vietnam and Cambodia. Didion, who identifies herself as the narrator of the story, compiles fragments of Inez Christian Victor's life in an effort to help order Inez's experiences, and thus provide meaning to her life.
Inez is the strongest character in the novel, and the one whose point of view the reader most frequently shares. Indeed, the author testifies that Inez was to have been the first-person narrator of an abandoned version of the book. Born on January 1, 1935, Inez marries Harry Victor and becomes the mother of twins: Adlai, a boy, and Jessie, a girl. As the wife of an ambitious politician, Inez has to develop mannerisms peculiar to people in the public eye. She is the primary focus for one of the book's most insistent themes: the insidiously destructive nature of public life. Inez, like others in her position, has "lost track." In playing a part for so long, in so diligently ensuring that her every gesture is tailored for general scrutiny, she has lost all memory of what being herself means.
The novel focuses on Inez's marriage to Harry Victor and her long love affair with Jack Lovett, a CIA freelancer. She first meets Jack in Hawaii on her seventeenth birthday and begins a brief affair. A few years later, she marries Harry Victor and adopts the role of a politician's wife. Though Inez finds little fulfillment in her private or public life, she dutifully supports her husband, who eventually wins a seat in the U.S. Senate. She and Jack see each other intermittently during the next twenty years, until the death of her sister, Janet. When her sister dies, Inez finally leaves her husband for Jack and a new life in Kuala Lumpur, where she helps resettle Vietnam war refugees.
Harry Victor, Inez's husband, is a creature consumed by political life and personal ambition. After successful campaigns for Congress in 1964, 1966, and 1968, he is made a senator in 1969, following the death of the incumbent. After his attempt to become the 1972 presidential nominee of his party fails, his life revolves around public dinners and public speaking. He lectures at Berkeley during the spring of 1973; and, estranged from his wife, he dines in London in the company of a glamorous woman. At the end of the book, his political ambition and personal life are in tatters. Harry Victor is seen as a pathetic figure who is powerless to prevent his wife from taking off with another man.
Jack Lovett is an undercover operator with a finger in many pies. An opportunist, he makes the best of a given situation. The exact nature of his operations is kept vague, but the reader is given the strong impression that he makes his living by arms-dealing and similar activities. In particular, towards the end of the novel he is implicated in profiting from events surrounding the American withdrawal from Vietnam. However, Didion is at pains to exempt him from accusations of treason: "It would be accurate only to say that he regarded the country on whose passport he traveled as an abstraction, a state actor, one of several to be factored into any given play."
For Jack, Inez is certainly not an abstraction. He falls for her on their first meeting, which is on her seventeenth birthday, during the intermission of a ballet. They have a brief affair. His seven-year marriage to Carla Lovett, a druggist's daughter from California, ends in the same year. But Jack is much older than Inez. She has her young life to lead, and the two of them meet only sporadically across a span of twenty years or more. Jack is married a second time, from 1962 to 1964, to "Honolulu divorcee" Betty Bennett, a neighbor of Inez's sister, Janet. At each encounter between Inez and Jack it is apparent that the old spark is still alive. However, Inez, despite the shallowness of her life with Harry, will not leave her husband for Jack. His entreaties are always charmingly understated. Finally, in the melodramatic closing of the book, Jack is able to seize the initiative, and Inez surrenders to his man-of-action prowess.
The renewal of intimacy between Jack and Inez is short-lived. Jack dies in a swimming pool in Jakarta. The timing and circumstance of his death are suspicious, but not belabored by Didion. However, the reader is clearly intended to note the fact that Jack's name had been increasingly mentioned in government investigations into wrongdoing during the American withdrawal from Vietnam. After Jack dies, Mr. Soebadio, a mysterious gentleman, appears at poolside and takes over (from Inez) all responsibility for dealing with the removal and transportation of the body.
Because the novel spans more than two decades, Inez's children, the twins Adlai and Jessie Victor, also figure in the story. Both were born February 23, 1957. Adlai is involved in a serious accident in June 1973, in which a "fifteen-year-old from Denver lost her left eye and the function of one kidney"—an example of carefully placed, circumstantial detail not later developed by Didion. Adlai is less important to the novel than his sister. Another victim of her father's immersion in public life, Jessie becomes a heroin addict. In June 1973, she is found in a state of collapse, and the following year is placed in a clinic. Quite bizarrely, at just the point when American troops and civilians are pulling out of Vietnam, she decides to go and work in Saigon. She flies out the night before her Aunt Janet's funeral. Significantly, it is not her father who goes to fetch her back, but Jack Lovett (accompanied by Inez), using his clandestine connections. Jessie is found working as a bar girl at the Legion club.
Secondary characters in the novel include the members of the Christian family and those connected with them. Janet Ziegler, born Janet Christian, is Inez's younger sister who figures in many of the flashbacks to the two sisters' childhood and early adolescence. She is also prominent near the end of the novel, when she has been fatally shot by her deranged father as a result of her involvement with the black political activist Wendell Omura.
Carol Christian is the mother of Inez and Janet. Although it is Inez and her sister Janet who become the two main female characters, Didion admits early on in the novel that she "was interested more in Carol Christian than in her daughters." Having arrived in Honolulu as a bride in 1934, Carol Christian is always an outsider on the islands and stubbornly lonely in her marriage. She leaves dark red lipstick marks on her cigarettes, which she stubs out after barely smoking them, and spends hours at her dressing table, which is strewn with paper parasols from cocktails. She dies in a Piper Apache plane crash near Reno, Nevada, soon after her daughter Janet's marriage to Dick Ziegler.
Paul Christian, husband of Carol Christian and father of Inez and Janet, kills Wendell Omura with a .357 magnum and fatally injures his own daughter Janet. The shooting is motivated by business, family, and racial jealousies, but it is described in terms of a cold assassination. Having developed an eccentric objection to his family's financial dealings in Honolulu, Paul Christian has taken to living off canned tuna. The description of his actions immediately before and following the murder (living in a single YMCA room, going for a swim in the YMCA pool) gives the impression of a man turned clinically insane, a fact that Billy Dillon, Harry Victor's campaign manager, is keen to make the most of in his efforts to contain the situation.
Dwight Christian, the brother of Paul Christian, and therefore uncle to Inez and Janet, has a moral saw ready for every occasion, a characteristic which Didion treats mockingly. The quotations come from extracts torn from a weekly column, "Thoughts on the Business Life," subsequently typed up on index cards by Dwight's secretary to form a file. Dwight is described as having more significance in the early life of Inez and Janet than their father, but the sympathetic qualities of his character are never properly explored. Ruthie Christian, Dwight's wife, is rarely mentioned in the novel.
Finally, it is tempting to identify the first person narrator as Joan Didion herself. She mentions her time at Vogue in the early 1960s, and ventures several opinions about the art and complexities of narrative construction that are known to be representative of Didion's own views as a novelist. However, if Janet, Inez, and the other characters are accepted as fictional, it is perfectly possible to accept the first-person voice as a fictional construct, too. The construct serves two purposes: It allows Didion to speak directly to the reader, and it suggests that she is passing on information that has been intimately communicated to her by certain characters in the novel.
A couple of minor characters deserve mention for their function in novel. Kiki Watt is a fading beauty who is interviewed by Vogue in the early part of the novel. The single interlude in which she is featured is a significant one, however. Kiki rattles away in an amusingly well-captured banter, communicating nothing. The other characters present—Inez, Jack Lovett, and the novelist— say little but communicate a great deal. Kiki is a colorful, minor character used as an effective foil for the more important players. Another woman, Victor's aide Frances Landau makes only brief appearances in the novel—for example, at a dinner at Jakarta airport with Harry Victor—but she is representative of a type of woman who will hang on to public figures, "deprecating their own claims to be heard."