SANTA ANA WINDS Joan Didion. RHETORICAL ANALYSIS Moran. Busayo , Jade, & Moran:. “There is something uneasy in the Los Angeles air this afternoon, some unnatural stillness, some tension.”
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“There is something uneasy in the Los Angeles air this afternoon, some unnatural stillness, some tension.”
Didion’s suspense builds through her use of the words “something uneasy” and “in the [Los Angeles] air”, because as readers we start to wonder what this “something” is. We are a bit alarmed about what might be “in the air”.
Her use of “unnatural” suggests something otherworldly could be happening.
Her use of anaphora, (the repeating of an initial word/phrase), as in “some unnatural stillness, some tension” mimics the idea of struggling to identify exactly what is wrong that afternoon.
Didion establishes her context, letting the audience know it is a southern California afternoon by saying, “…in the Los Angeles air this afternoon,…”
Didion’s use of the phrase, “some unnatural stillness” conveys her uneasiness, her fear, and just how hushed everything seems.
Didion’s “some tension” arouses a curiosity in the reader, because now we want to know what is the cause of this “tension”.
“What it means is that tonight a Santa Ana will begin to blow, a hot wind from the northeast whining down through the Cajon and San Gorgonio Passes, blowing up sand storms out along Route 66, drying the hills and the nerves to flash point.”
This word order and arrangement of details sets an eerie mood and an ominous tone for much of the rest of the passage.
“What it means is that …” By using an inverted word order in the start of this sentence, Didion draws out the suspense just a bit further, until she announces, “…tonight a Santa Ana will begin to blow…”
.Her simple word choices, “blow”, “hot”, and “wind” suggest that this Santa Ana phenomenon is just plain aggressive, and straightforward and awful. No use trying to pretty it up.
Didion’s use of antithesis (opposites), “whining down,” and “blowing up,” bolsters Didion’s purpose by suggesting that this Santa Ana wind will turn everything topsy-turvy.
Didion’s use of “a hot wind from the northeast whining down through the Cajon and San Gorgonio Passes” personifies the Santa Ana as it seems to creep around slithering like a snake through LA’s mountains. “Whining” echoes the uneasiness of the first line of the passage.
Didion’szeugma, “drying the hills and the nerves to flash point,” reveals the power of the Santa Ana to dry both concrete things like hills and abstract things like nerves.
Didion’s use of the phrase “flash point” could also mean “burn” or “fry”—so that by saying that the wind dries the nerves to flash point, it is saying that the Santa Ana makes you lose your sanity. Your nerves are fried.
“For a few days now we will see smoke back in the canyons, and hear sirens in the night. I have neither heard nor read that a Santa Ana is due, but I know it, and almost everyone I have seen today knows it too. We know it because we feel it. The baby frets. The maid sulks. I rekindle a waning argument with the telephone company, then cut my losses and lie down, given over to whatever it is in the air.”
Didion’s imagery and context, when she says, “For a few days now we will see smoke back in the canyons, and hear sirens in the night,” covers two to three days’ time to suspect the arrival of the Santa Ana winds, and conveys an almost blasé’ attitude/tone towards the winds.
Using a narrative rhetorical pattern, Didion suggests when she says, “ I have neither heard nor read that a Santa Ana is due, but I know it, and almost everyone I have seen today knows it too,” that she is not communicating with people , having “neither heard nor read”, but is “seeing” them instead, implying that the human reactions to the Santa Ana are visually obvious.
Didion’s parallel sentence arrangements, “… but I know it, and almost everyone I have seen today knows it too. We know it because we feel it,” reinforces the idea that while everyone knows it, no one is saying it, everyone is just in this little community, going about their business, casting sidelong glances at each other in the Shoprite parking lot, just everyone running along parallel lines that never seem to meet.
Didion’s short sentences, “The baby frets. The maid sulks,” highlight the intensity, add to the ominous tone and are perhaps mimicking the short tempers of Didion and everyone else.
Her use of “rekindle” suggests Didion’s metaphorical re-lighting a fire--suffering under the influence of the winds, she is clearly on edge, as she reluctantly gives in to what everyone else seems to have given in to—the cranky, irritableness that accompanies a Santa Ana event.
“I recall being told, when I first moved to Los Angeles and was living on an isolated beach, that the Indians would throw themselves into the sea when the bad wind blew. I could see why. The Pacific turned ominously glossy during a Santa Ana period, and one woke in the night troubled not only by the peacocks’ screaming in the olive trees but by the eerie absence of surf.”
Didion’s referencing Indian lore suggests that the Santa Ana has been making people desperate for centuries, since before Europeans were in California. Mentioning that the “Indians” would throw themselves into the sea during a Santa Ana event continues to reinforce her ominous tone and purpose, to let her readers know that this wind is historical, of ancient legend, and very dangerous.
Her use of “when the bad wind blew,” mimics the rhetorical speech patterns of Native Americans learning to speak English.
Her short sentence , “I could see why,” sets a gloomy, dark and grim tone, and reaffirms the Indian lore mentioned in the previous sentence.
“The Pacific turned ominously glossy”—Didion’s use of “glossy” suggests that the usually wild and choppy water of the ocean is now dangerously shiny and still, grimly glowing .
Didion’s use of visual and auditory imagery represents the atmosphere where even the animals are “screaming” and out of control. This imagery relates to what Didion says in the next sentence, when she announces that there is an “eerie absence of surf.”
“The heat was surreal. The sky had a yellow cast, the kind of light sometimes called “earthquake weather.” My only neighbor would not come out of her house for days, and there were no lights at night, and her husband roamed the place with a machete. One day he would tell me that he had heard a trespasser, the next a rattlesnake.”
The simplicity of Didion’s short sentence and use of the word “surreal” conveys a profound sense of how the heat is so bad, so beyond real, that it can only be described in a short sentence. As if in this heat, Didion is just out of breath and has no more energy.
The visual imagery of a yellow cast to the sky and the relating of this light to “earthquake weather” increase the ominous tone as well as adding suspense.
The “only” neighbor suggests that Didion lives in an isolated area, and that the neighbor won’t “come out” suggests a building fear and loneliness. One can picture a house with the shades down and the doors locked. There is no one who can help out in an emergency, we start to think.
The imagery of the husband “roam[ing] the place” with a machete and can’t decide if he is hearing a trespasser or a rattlesnake, conveys a descent into lawless chaos, where the few people near Didion are unable to make decisions, and are panicked, and maybe paranoid, too.
BONUS: There is here a sense of a literary allusion to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, in that many of the characters in his novel succumb to their most base instincts in order to survive the political upheaval happening around them.
“’On nights like that,’ Raymond Chandler once wrote about the Santa Ana, ‘every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands’ necks. Anything can happen.’ That was the kind of wind it was.”
“…like that” sounds ominous—as if Chandler is saying, “People like that should be in jail…”Chandler is differentiating these nights from typical, ordinary nights, conveying a negative tone here.
When Chandler says “‘every booze party ends in a fight,” Didion wants to depict how violent scenarios at home can occur “every” night.
When Didion quotes Chandler saying that “Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands’ necks,” the imagery suggests that the Santa Ana winds change people’s personalities and relationships in very sinister ways.
Chandler’s use of the word, “study” suggests pre-meditation on the wives’ parts.
When Chandler says “Anything can happen.,” the reader realizes just how extreme the weather can be in its power to affect human behavior. Anything goes. All bets are off. We’re all gonna die…
And finally, when Didion ends with “That was the kind of wind it was,” it’s as if she is finishing a really interesting storytelling hour…