Isolation as a Means of Resolving Despair
In both “Guaymas, Sonora” and “Goodbye to All That,” isolation is a motif that transitions in its meaning. In “Guaymas, Sonora,” Didion’s isolation is tied to her escapism. On the other hand, in “Goodbye to All That,” isolation accompanies Didion’s search to solve her despair in a youthful desire for independence. In both essays, Didion returns to a life in which she is not isolated. The motif of isolation illustrates how physical and mental isolation do not contain the ability to resolve emotional conflicts.
In “Goodbye to All That,” the physical settings of New York City and California illustrate Didion’s physical isolation, revealing how her acquisition of independence was aligned with her sadness. To some extent, New York is a city in which Didion will not be physically isolated. However, she is in a mental state of isolation during her time in New York which is exemplified when she addresses how she does not mention her struggles in the “letters [she] wrote to California”. California, another physical location, is the setting which Didion was attempting to physically avoid, where she feels dependent and trapped. By physically detach herself from the people she knows across the country, Didion is seeking independence. However, Didion’s sadness within this independence is revealed when the setting that once excited her turns into despair over the locations she previously frequented. When Didion was diagnosed with depression she pairs it with her inability to emotionally deal with the setting, such as her inability to “walk on upper Madison Avenue”. This emotional struggle to walk on a street in New York illustrates how her physical isolation was tied in with her mental state of despair. New York in turn becomes a symbol tied to her to sadness. Thus revealing how her physical isolation is aligned with her depression. To solve her sadness, Didion gets married and eventually physically exits New York. Her marriage, a companionship which would theoretically alleviate her isolation and end her youthful independence, was what catalyzed her exit of New York and return to California. This illustrates how Didion attempted to alleviate her depression by altering her state of physical isolation.
In “Guaymas, Sonora,” the setting of Guaymas, Mexico portrays Didion’s escapism through her and her husband’s physical isolation, painting isolation as an only temporary way to solve despair. This is exemplified when Didion discusses the emptiness of Guaymas, a setting which lacks experiences to take part in. Didion’s physical isolation in Guaymas is conveyed as being caused by her depression. Didion attempts to escape this with a shift in setting. However, the setting of Guaymas conclusively failed to provide Didion a solution to her despair in Los Angeles. This is portrayed as she and her husband looked for an activity, but could only find a “tracking station” or a film, which led her to believe it was time to leave the setting of Guaymas. Didion recording this realization that vacation in Guaymas had limits and they needed to return home illustrates the realization that isolation is but a temporary solution to despair.
The physical settings of Guaymas, New York City, and California are physical as well as mental places of isolation. While New York City, unlike Guaymas, had a plethora of activities to take part of during a youthful discovery of independence, Didion was still in despair and a majority of the city reminded her of this despair. On the other hand, Guaymas was a vacation spot, a method of escapism. Didion’s isolation in that physical setting paints isolation temporary medicine for sadness. Nevertheless, Didion realized in both essays that isolation was ineffective in completely resolving her sadness, and physically exited both settings with a companion. In “Goodbye to All That,” Didion attempts to resolve her disparity with mental isolation. On the other hand, in “Guaymas, Sonora,” Didion attempts to solve it with physical isolation. In both essays her resolutions are only temporary. Thus, the motif of isolation is painted as temporary solution to the emotional conflict of despair.
In “Goodbye to All That”, imagery conveys Didion’s hope that her experiences in the city will provide her a refuge to her mental state of isolation. This is exemplified in the plethora of olfactory and visual descriptions when she describes New York. From descriptions of the colors of traffic signals to the senses heightened when a breeze blows by, Didion conveys a level of imagery that captures her desire to feel and hold experiences deeply. The multitude of happenings in New York coupled with the imagery she describes essentially drown out her despair, temporarily. Her mental despair on the other hand is still apparent. While heightening imagery, representative of Didion’s heightened emotions, increased the intensity of positive experiences, it also increased the intensity of negative ones. Thus, the same imagery that brings her joy can bring her a negative experience and cause her to further recluse and mentally isolate herself into a state of constant sadness. While the imagery does evoke some hope in Didion’s acquisition of a new life and independence, it also conveys her orbit into despair and inability to escape, for the intense sense perception she experiences in New York makes it impossible.
The barren imagery in “Guaymas, Sonora” portrays how complete physical isolation fails to resolve one’s mental disparity. Visual and tactile imagery in this essay portray a relaxing, exotic vacation. However, the imagery being paired with a sense of repetition evokes an atmosphere of boredom. Didion continuously discusses the heat as well as the red and brown shades of the desert. This repetitiveness illustrates a lack of experiences and elicits little emotion, other than boredom. Thus, the eventual decision on Didion to return home due to a lack of activities to take part in makes logical sense. It also illustrates how her physical isolation had nothing stimulating for her mental state. The imagery provided an underwhelming sense of Didion’s which portrays how physical isolation fails to catalyze a mental shift in disparity.
In both essay, imagery conveys how sense perception is a driving force in the attempt to alleviate emotional disparity. In “Goodbye to All That,” Didion’s record of imagery reveals her attempts to drown out disparity through heightening her senses. A different effect of imagery occurs in “Guaymas, Sonora,” in which the repetitive, nearly monochromatic imagery highlights a numbness of the senses of Didion and captures her attempt to solve disparity through physical isolation from a world filled with a multitude of senses and emotions (a world that exists in New York). It is also important to consider that in the two essays, Didion is in different stages of her life. In “Goodbye to All That,” Didion is young and attempting to acquire independence. She is searching for new experiences, emotions, and in turn welcomes the different overwhelming senses the setting offers. On the other hand, “Guaymas, Sonora” is set after Didion’s experience in New York, a time in which she has settled down in Los Angeles and is searching for physical isolation accompanied with a lack of senses.
While “Goodbye to All That” focuses on Didion’s mental isolation and “Guaymas, Sonora” focuses on Didion’s physical isolation, both highlight the relationship between isolation and despair. Didion eventually returns to her home of Los Angeles in both novels, illustrating how her attempts to alleviate her emotional state were unsuccessful. Conclusively, both “Goodbye to All That” and “Guaymas, Sonora” convey the motif of isolation to illustrate that physical and mental isolation is but a temporary solution to resolving one’s despair.
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