In Joan Didion's coming of age essay, "Goodbye to All That", she uses New York symbolically to portray the illusion of infinite youth. Her stay in New York begins when she is very young and full of hopes. She lives everyday with the idea that there are no consequences and nothing matters. As her stay in New York grows from the planned six months to eight years, she becomes tired of New York, and eventually very depressed. She describes her own experience with New York in a manner that shows the ideas, optimism, and dreams that die with lost youth and the understanding that comes from growing older. However, Didion's essay is not just about New York and her experience of maturing there. It is a reminder that life is in fact short, that one cannot stay young forever, and eventually, at some point in everyone's life, they will look back nostalgically upon the youth they lost. .
Didion writes in a way that everyone can relate to, so much so that it's not merely about her life, but about everyone's life as well. Her essay is very much about her being young in New York, but generalizes her story by stating, ".of course it might have been some other city, had the circumstance been different and the time been different and had [she] been different, might have been Paris or Chicago or even San Francisco, but because [she is] talking about [herself she is] talking here about New York". .
Didion first arrives in New York at the age of 20. Upon her arrival, she comes to the realization that nothing she thought she knew about New York was true. All the movies she had seen and books she had read had not given justice to New York's true character. She feels out of place to the extent that even when she falls violently ill, she does not bother to find a doctor out of fear of not knowing how to behave. New York becomes a character in Didion's essay. In fact, the city is the only real character.