In Joan Didion’s memoir, she outlines the events of a painfully tragic experience in her life. She takes the reader through her dismal attitudes of embarrassment, uneasiness, and eventual enlightenment. Didion explains how her distorted view on self-respect from her childhood is morphed into life’s reality when she is not accepted into Phi Beta Kappa. Strong comparisons and distinct diction engulfs the reader and leads them through a journey in Didion’s life. The text begins with Didion scribbling in her diary, presumably in an upset mood judging by the sizeable print she used to create a dramatic effect.
“I wrote in large letters across two pages of a notebook that innocence ends when one is stripped of the delusion that one likes oneself. ” This dramatic statement immediately hooks the reader, causing them to wonder what horrific event resulted in Didion’s definite state of agitation. A shift occurs as Didion begins to recall, some years later, on her foolish and naive thought process. Didion expresses her chagrin feeling as she claims, “I recall with embarrassing clarity the flavor of those particular ashes.
It was a matter of misplaced self-respect. ” In this statement Didion refers to her documentations in her diary as “ashes” signifying the lack of reality they held. Due to Didion’s crooked view on self-respect she is stripped of her ability to pledge in Phi Beta Kappa. In the following paragraph Didion explains that it was quite obvious why she did not get elected into Phi Beta Kappa. She was not the “academic Raskolnikov” she had dreamt herself to be; she simply did not have the grades.
But this still left her unsettled. Although not getting into Phi Beta Kappa was hardly a tragedy, it was still the end of something for Didion and she states “The day I did not get into Phi Beta Kappa nonetheless marked the end of something and innocence may well be the word for it. ” Didion then comes to numerous realizations due to the false realities her childhood consisted of. For example, she loses the firm belief that “lights would always turn green” meaning she will no longer always get her way.
The idea that the virtues instilled from her upbringing could give her “not only Phi Beta Kappa Keys but happiness, honor, and the love of a good man” was no longer practical. And she began to realize that the social standards of “good manners, clean hair, and proven competence on the Stanford-Binet scale”, which her self-respect reflected upon, were not all that mattered. In the concluding sentence to this paragraph Didion states, “I faced myself that day with the nonplussed apprehension of someone who has come across a vampire and has no crucifix in hand.
” This represents the feeling of uneasiness Didion portrays as she realizes she is defenseless against the fact that her innocence could no longer carry her through life. In the final paragraph Didion admits that “To be driven back upon oneself is uneasy” but “It is the one condition necessary to the new beginnings of self-respect. ” This statement exemplifies the attitude of enlightenment Didion began to feel. It shows that coming to terms with the person you really are is difficult, but it is crucial when trying to obtain true self-respect.
In conclusion, Didion realizes that her “marked cards” cannot carry her though life. Didion is reviewing the actions in her past that were reflections of her misplaced self-respect. She cannot carry around her false credentials in hope to gain respect from others. After looking back on the falsely identified tragedy that changed her life, Didion understands that self-respect has nothing to do with the people you surround yourself with. Who you are does not reflect upon your past, or your reputation, but upon your present self. And the courage you project.