The Last Thing He Wanted

by Joan Didion

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

The Last Thing He Wanted is a thrilling tale in which a young journalist leaves her job behind to care for her ailing father. During her care-taking, she ends up getting wrapped up in her father's arms-dealing business and going to Costa Rica to make a drop of a planeload full of landmines. She is nearly killed, and she becomes involved in a plot to assassinate an ambassador during her time in Costa Rica and barely escapes with her life.

Family Loyalty

Family loyalty is a theme throughout the novel. Elena takes care of her father in spite of their clear separation and distaste for one another. She was much closer to her mother, and her father was always an angry man who was wrapped up in less than honorable actions, but she still sticks by him and helps him out. She even goes so far as making the weapons drop in his place, which leads to an attempt on her life. She is also greatly concerned for her daughter during the events of the story, because she may be endangered due to the nature of the events happening.


Isolation is another theme that pervades the novel. Elena constantly mentions how she feels alone in the world. She lives a nomadic lifestyle, following leads as a journalist and working on the campaign trail, and because of this, she can never feel grounded. She relates to Treat Morrison so deeply because she feels like he is a nomad like her, and they share a bond as kindred spirits who are isolated from others.

Political Unrest

A final theme in the work is political unrest. The beginning of Elena's story is focused on a political campaign. She is following an election in 1984, which leads to a changing of the guard in the American political arena. In the end, she is embroiled in a seditious plot in Costa Rica to overthrow the government and kill an ambassador. Throughout the text, political unrest is a huge factor.

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