Joan Didion’s portrait of the “hippie movement” is not just that, but it is a portrait of a changing America. Within a story of “trips” and runaways, Slouching Towards Bethlehem is an example of the generational differences in the late 1960s.
Speaking to young runaways at a Grateful Dead concert, she hears of the different ideologies they have than their parents. Chores seem to them a daunting and unnecessary task. Consequences for below average grades were “a bummer.” The teens tell of how they aren’t going to plan for the future, “we’re just gonna let it all happen.” You can tell that Didion feels some sort of sympathy towards their naivety. When she writes “I finally ask it. I ask them to think back to when they were children, to tell me what they had wanted to be when they were grown up, how they had seen the future then.” It’s as though their innocence is lost, and with it, all sense of direction. Didion’s readers would have felt a heart-wrenching feeling of how they could be their children someday, look at what the hippies have done to them.
Even more so, hearing about the way these teenagers were brought up bares a striking contrast tot he way Didion shows the children within of her characters. Instead of chores and rules, the children are free to do as they please, or whats more, are given the same treatment as the young adults. Didion ends Slouching Towards Bethlehem with the stomach turning image of a five year old child tripping on acid and a three year old starting a fire while everyone was asleep.
These generational differences sneak through in small sentences in the middle of larger conversations, too. Deadeye is speaking to Didion about opening a house for people to come and speak about their problems, he doesn’t finish there but goes on to say “Any age. People your age, they’ve got problems too.” This immediately puts up a division between the two of them, Deadeye is saying that she is not one of them, they are all younger than her and have different problems than her, but she matters too.