On the Road by Joan Didion: Summary

Joan Didion made a book tour in order to advertise her fourth book in 1977. In this course she visited many radio and TV studios in America. In all studios she was asked the question "Where are we going?" But she never learned the answer because it was not important.

Joan Didion

Especially in a live broadcast talk, nothing can be changed. The writer had to speak without any preparation like a busy actor and her face was like that of a concerned American. Outside the studios, the weather, in different parts of the USA, was changeable and lovely: in one part it was very hot and in another part it was snowy. But inside the studios the interviewers asked her the single common question: where are we heading?

She had been very busy from the very first day. She would work from 8.30 A.M. to 9 P.M. She would visit people and publishers and studios. As the days passed, she would send her belongings home to make room for new things she got. On the tenth day in Boston, she would hear America singing in the angels' voice. While discussing the question "where are we heading?" the setting in the studios would be the same: cables, cameras and Styrofoam coffee cups. The writer would express her conviction that they were going into an era as the time demanded. She would listen to other people talking about the same topic and would know about their jobs and interests. She talked on various topics with different persons. She stopped reading newspapers and relied on different sources of information. She preferred a random way of life.

She liked America more than ever. As a traveller she talked of places in terms of airports. She and her daughter were the only female passengers in the first-class cabin of the planes. She learned the secret of American business. Time was money and speed was progress. Decisions had to be made quickly and business people depended on the service of other people. If they did not get 24-hour room service, they would feel uneasy. Once they were accustomed to travelling, they wanted to keep it on.

In Houston the air was warm and suggestive of fossil fuel. In Chicago the air was brilliant. In New York the air was pervaded with opinions. Everyone there had opinions. Even the writer's daughter had an opinion. Even the absence of opinion was interpreted as opinion. In most cases, the previous week's opinion was corrected or revised. When the writer was there, they were expressing their opinions about joy. People talked about different things that changed their lives agreeably and disagreeably.

The writer began to see many things in the air. There were opinions, planes, and even people. Many people jumped from the skyscrapers to commit suicide. A lot of them fell down while washing the windows. Once the writer felt breathless until she saw the window-washer glide safely out of sight. In Los Angeles a jumper had delayed the writer's programme. Then she imagined the sky filled with jumpers, window-washers and DC-10s. The big antenna with red lights at the airports had been her destination for a month. In her last interview she said that she did not know where other people were going, but she was going home.

On the Road

Commentary of "On the Road"

Analysis of "On the Road"

Biography of Joan Didion