Major Paper #5–assignment description & sample paper

While both Linda Thomas’ essay “Brush Fire” and Joan Didion’s “The Santa Ana” present detailed and provocative descriptions of the Santa Ana winds, the authors invoke the winds with different aims. Students are asked to apply knowledge of context, intention, structure and appeals as they account for how the two texts intersect and diverge from each other. Students are expected to articulate how particular tactics, such as author’s use of metaphor, anecdote, authority or personal observation help drive home her central ideas.   

“The Santa Anna” and “Brush Fire”

“The Santa Anna” by Joan Didion is a very dark and ominous essay. It is almost threatening to the reader. In this oppressive essay, Didion discusses the different types of winds, and what their effects are on the people in the area. She also gives examples of the tragedies that have happened because of the winds. It is almost as if she wrote the story from a physiological point of view.

“Brush Fire” by Linda Thomas on the other hand is a very “pretty” essay.  Thomas has a refreshing stand point on these same winds that Didion trashes in her paper.  In the essay she is highly descriptive, she gives amazing imagery and details to the events that unfold in the paper. The essay has almost an amazed and appreciative perspective. It is like Thomas cannot believe that this happens every year and that she gets to see it. As a student in our class commented, “It is like when a baby first opens its eyes.” She sounds that amazed.

Joan Didion says this of the Santa Anna Winds: “To live with the Santa Anna is to accept, consciously or unconsciously, a deeply mechanistic view of human behavior.” On the other hand Linda Thomas say this “It will be more than the chaparral that has burned, but in the spring the chaparral will return.” The two writers have totally different outlooks on the Santa Anna winds.

A mechanistic way of life is the belief that living things are like machines or artifacts, composed of parts lacking any crucial relationship to each other. This is from Didions’ point of view; on the other hand Thomas’s quotation talks about the natural cycle of destruction and re –growth, of death and of rebirth.

Didion provides details of the winds from different countries such as the Hamsin of Israel, the Mistrial of France and the Mediterranean Sirocco and Foehn of Austria and Switzerland, which cause headaches, nausea, allergies, nervousness and depression. In Los Angeles some teachers do not conduct lessons because the children become unmanageable. In Switzerland the suicide rate goes up and doctors have discovered that blood does not clot normally during these winds. She gives an example of the mechanistic aspects of people: “Positive ions are in the air hours before the winds hit, and an excess of positive ions in the simplest of terms make people unhappy.”

Thomas provides a whole different view: she offers the view of the natural cycle. “… some plants in the chaparral such as the padre’s staff need the heat of a flame to crack open their seed pods and prepare for germination.”  She goes on to say most plants store water in their root system, and the roots, undamaged by fast moving, wind driven brush fires, send out new growth in the spring. In this the exertion of life is the topic; re-growth, the natural way of life, and the brush fires are needed in order for this to happen.

Didion uses logos, pathos and ethos in her paper to bring her point across, but so does Thomas. Even though they have different viewpoints on the Santa Anna winds they use the same appeals to bring. Didion emphasizes the severity of the situation with her choice of words. She uses words and phrases such as “burn,” “tragic deaths,” “killed,” “shot,” “destruction,” “auto mobile accidents” and “died violently” to stress the fact that the Santa Anna winds are very dangerous. Thomas uses phrases that showcase the amazing cycle that occurs every year, “passionate kisses,” “flames the color of sunset,” “lost in embrace,” all to show that the fire caused by the Santa Anna winds are beautiful and no one takes the time to notice it; all they notice is the destruction of homes and even that fails to be a riveting event.

Didion illustrates the views of the real life situation. In the end Didion is providing evidence that a mechanist view of life has its problems. On another level she offers the idea that because of the positive ions given off by the winds we are not in control of our actions, free will to be specific. In an article written in 2009 it states that whether we like it or not, we may be more a part of the natural world than we suspect, and maybe that is what Didion is trying to convey.

The essays “Brush Fire” and “The Santa Anna” are talking about winds, but from different perspectives. Didion is very oppressive in her perspective whereas Thomas is awed by the beauty of the fires that are like the orange flames of a sunset. The intention for Didion in this essay is to portray how the winds of the world have a powerful effect on us, and the intention of Thomas is that see the splendor of these hated yearly fires.

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