On the Road by Joan Didion: Commentary

"On the Road" is a narrative essay. Even though there is a persuasive dimension to the narrative essay, it is best approached first of all through its narrative elements. The basic elements of narration are a story and a storyteller. In a story we have characters and events, arranged in time so as to move toward some climax and resolution.

Joan Didion

The essayist presents this movement and tells the story by means of description, dialogue, and commentary. By observing the stages in the movement of the plot, and by noting the implications of description, dialogue, and commentary, we can begin to understand a narrative essay.

In this essay Joan Didion is concerned, as her title "On the Road" suggests: she has to narrate a journey that took place for a month in the year 1977 in order to promote her book. And like most essayists, she asks the question "where are we heading?" and makes the readers and other characters in the essay think about the answer. But at the end she wittily answer, that she is going home. If one has to live a happy life, home is the only place where one is always welcomed. The rich businessman is not happy. He depends on others for 24 hours and can't lead a calm and quiet life.

This essay can be divided into three parts. In the first part, Didion describes her busy visit to different, cities. In most cases, she had to work from 8:30 A.M. to 9 P.M. Although the same general question "Where are we heading" was asked inside the studios by interviewers, she could see exhilarating and volatile weather.

The second part mainly deals with the life of a rich businessman. In this part, the writer expresses her conviction that we are entering 'into an era' as demanded by the clock. Here she lives the life of a rich businesswoman. She travels in the first-class cabins of the planes. She does not have time enough to read newspapers. She has to use all her time to make money and to go ahead fast to make progress. She has to depend on the service of other people.

The final part describes the fashionable life in the city. Changing opinion is the fashion of the city. The thing in vogue the previous week is corrected and revised this week. If talking about 'joy' is in fashion, everybody will start expressing his or her opinions. This part also describes how people commit suicide and how this becomes a newsmaker. In the last studio, she answers the common question "where are we heading" saying that she is heading home. By this, she may be indicating that in this uncertain and changeable world, home is the only place where one finds the long-preserved trading to oneself.

In this essay the personality of the speaker is predominant. She speaks with her readers most of the time. To represent "the concerned Americans" she uses the first person plural pronoun 'we' and to represent herself and her personal opinions she use the first person singular pronoun 'I'. She does not interpret the events directly. She rather wants her readers to find their own answers in most cases.

Joan Didion

Summary of "On the Road"

Analysis of "On the Road"

Biography of Joan Didion