Joan Didion views the Santa Ana winds as malevolent entities, both powerfully frightening and mysteriously dangerous in her essay, “Los Angeles Notebook.” The wind is believed to change the people that it touches, causing people to behave in most uncharacteristic manners. While science proves that the ratio of positive to negative ions is significantly higher before the wind blows, it doesn’t explain why people are so drastically affected. Through Didion’s use of diction in word choices like “eerie”, “ominously”, “malevolent”, and “surreal”, a tone of suspenseful tension is conveyed as the people await the Santa Ana Winds – and the tone serves the purpose of portraying Didion’s opinion that the winds are “sinister” and “mechanistic” and something to be avoided. Similarly, the method that Didion uses to string along her sentences conveys the tone as well – the excerpt is filled with a plethora of loosely constructed sentences which serve to layer on the detail and build the suspense.
The diction throughout “Los Angeles Notebook” functions as a way in which Didion utilizes in order to convey her opinion on the Santa Ana Wind, which is unexplainable as to their effects on people and are entirely sinister entities. Word choices throughout the excerpt such as “uneasy”, “screaming”, “frets”, and “sulks” all portray the responses that people make to these winds. Selections like “foehn” and “khamsin”, “friction” and “solar disturbances” allow the audience to acknowledge that Didion has indeed researched and analyzed the winds and similar entities in other locations, gaining a credence with respect to her opinion on the winds. Colloquialisms such as “booze party” and “earthquake weather” show that Didion recognizes her audience and allows a feeling of familiarity to embrace the audience as they continue reading her essay. This familiarity allows Didion’s opinion of the winds to hold greater sway over the audience that had she presented her essay in a coldly informational method. All of Didion’s word choices serve to make her opinion about the sinister Santa Ana Winds hear and similarly serve to also support her opinion that these winds truly are mechanistic and malevolent.
Unsurprisingly, Didion had the foresight to connect the function of diction with the expression of the tones of her essay. In the early stages of the excerpt from “Los Angeles Notebook” there is a suspenseful tone as tension is built through both the pacing and the syntax. This tense tone allows Didion’s opinion that the winds are mechanistic and representative of human behavior to seem logical, as such dastardly winds truly seem to be such a terrible thing. However, as the essay continues, the tone is modified, mutating into a feeling of disbelief and horror that winds can cause people to act, well, crazy. In Didion’s essay, “meek little wives feel the edge of the carvin knife and study their husbands necks” — certainly uncharacteristic of meek wives. The connotation of meek is contradictory with the contemplation of murder, which allows a disbelieving and horrified tone to be made even stronger. There is a third shift in the tone as a more scientific approach is employed. This is also strengthened through diction as a “ratio of ions” is explained , allowing the audience to remain on the same level as Didion in her analysis of the Santa Ana Winds. Examples of foehn winds in Austria and Switzerland and the khamsin of Israel prove that these winds aren’t freak occurrences and in truth “science bears out folk wisdom”. The essay ends with a tone of discovery and enlightenment as Didion simply states that unhappy people can’t get much more mechanistic.
Sentence structure also allows Joan Didion to express her opinion of the Santa Ana Winds while simultaneously aiding with effects of diction and tone. This essay is filled with loosely constructed sentences which are typically used to add layers of detail or to accumulate a feeling of suspense. In “Los Angeles Notebook” both methods are utilized. Sentences such as “What it means is that tonight a Santa Ana will begin to blow, a hot wind from the northeast whining down through the Cajun and San Gogonio passes blowing up sandstorms out along Route 66, drying the hills and the rivers to the flash point.” Not only does the one sentence describe the physical effect of the winds on its environment, but it also conveys the suspense of the audience as they wait for Didion’s view of the winds to finally be expressed in her thesis.
This sense of being put on hold parallels the feelings of those during the Santa Ana Winds, when Didion’s neighbor “wouldn’t come out of her house for days.” The syntax allows Didion to express her view, that the winds are sinister and mechanistic, through the construction of sentences.
Joan Didion uses such literary devices as diction, tone, and syntax to describe her view of the Santa Ana Winds. She utilizes these devices to prove her mechanistic view on the sinister winds. The tone portrays her opinion as it modifies from suspenseful to disbelieving to scientific to simple, while the syntax parallels the long, uncontrollable Santa Ana Winds and helps build the suspenseful tone. Diction contributes to all the shifts in tone while allowing the audience to clearly and simply see Didion’s mechanistic view of the winds through the vocabulary with which she chooses to describe. This force of nature leaves Didion drained, therefore ending “Los Angeles Notebook” with a simple conclusion.