In the end, he is in fact alone. The social effect of hashish is temporary and fading. When the intoxication wears off, he discovers that the freedom from loneliness was a dream. That is the dramatic twist at the end of the narrative. But it happens because of the depth of sympathetic involvement that carries the reader along with the narrator as he explores the dimension of society through the effects of hashish.
Didions “Goodbye to All That” also displays depth through the narrators self-exploration. The theme that unifies the essay is that the experience of New York changes over time. Didion wants to show this contrast of youth and later years. In the beginning, she is full of romantic illusions about New York. She is young, fueled by movie images, and optimistic. This is heightened by her expectations of some life-changing experience. The reader identifies with the excitement of moving to a new place. Didion describes the first years as fleeting. Time passes “with the deceptive ease of a film dissolve” (Didion 682). The reader falls in love with New York as the narrator has. As she smells the streets and tastes a peach, she knows that she had “reached the mirage” (Didion 683). This description of youthful confidence, opportunity, and possibility are sympathetic. She feels like the extraordinary could happen at any moment. Her image of New York is that it is promise.
Yet there was a cost to her dreaming. Her imaginary view of New York made it impossible to settle. This introduces tension in the narrative and gives it depth. She says, “In my imagination I was always there for just another few months, just until Christmas or Easter or the first warm day in May” (Didion 684). The narrator has trouble identifying because she is an outsider. She contrasts herself with those who grew up in the East. They did not adopt mythical notions about New York. She gets along better with Southerners who are equally outsiders. Her sense of transience is symbolized by the fact that she never bought furniture.
This is when the narrative shifts into new images that display the downside of the illusion. Didion speaks of watching cockroaches, insomnia, “bleak branches . . . And the monochromatic flatness of Second Avenue” (Didion 686). In other words, her narrative turns from dream to nightmare. The changed language reveals the illusion. Although at first she cherished loneliness and anonymity, she begins to spend afternoons drinking guiltlessly. By the time she is twenty-eight, she is distressed, silent, and disinterested in New York. She struggles to care about plays and going to the library. After her diagnosis, she says: “I cried until I was not even aware when I was crying and when I was not, cried in elevators and in taxis and in Chinese laundries” (Didion 687). This proves her main argument that New York is for the young only. She writes, “All I mean is that . . . At some point the golden rhythm was broken, and I am not that young any more” (Didion 688). This returns to her starting point — that “it is easy to see the beginning of things, and harder to see the ends” (Didion 681). The unifying theme has passed through the stage of optimism into the stage of disillusionment. There is depth to the one insight.
In sum, Benjamins and Didions essays demonstrate the principles that Gornick outlines for personal essays. Both are guided by singular ideas that drive the narrative forward. Both lend sympathetic depth and dimension through shifts in style and tone. Both show development through conflict — Benjamins through the tension between society and loneliness and Didions through youth and older age. Both capture and hold the readers attention this way. They are good examples to support Gornicks theory.
Benjamin, Walter. “Hashish in Marseilles.” In The Art of the Personal Essay: An Anthology from the Classical Era to the Present, ed. Phillip Loparte, 370-375. New York: Anchor Doubleday, 1994.
Didion, Joan. “Goodbye to All That.” In The Art of the Personal Essay: An Anthology from.