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Anggia Daiva

Jennifer Rodrick

English 115


The Life Of Maria Wyeth

The novel, ​Play It As It Lays​ by Joan Didion showcases the city of Los Angeles and

Hollywood as well as the different ethnicities of people who live there. Throughout the novel,

the character’s lives are dependent on reflecting towards Hollywood. Meanwhile, Hollywood

continues to portray a negative influence towards stereotypes, relationships, gender, religion and

most importantly, identity. Identity is the most important thing others seek of you, it consists of

your unique qualities, beliefs, personalities and expression. It helps other individuals perceive

what kind of person you are if you do choose to be true self. However, in today’s society, there

are celebrities who depict a fake image of themselves, pretending to be somebody they aren’t, for

fame. In this novel, main character, Maria Wyeth faces struggle with her identity also, the fact

that people are constantly taking from her. She believes that there’s no purpose for her in living

her life therefore, she must find the right ways to deal with her hardships and search for the

meaning of life by confronting her absence.

Maria Wyeth is a thirty-one year old divorced woman as well as mother of her four year

old daughter, Kate. All through the story, Maria switches up and makes plenty of poor decisions

that changes our perspective towards her. Not to mention, she’s also very much involved in a

majority of conflicts that corresponds with the idea of Hollywood. This all began when she
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moved to Beverly Hills with her successful husband, Carter Lang. Maria played quite a role on

two of his film’s but instead Carter received all the credit along with the fame. Being the

successful filmmaker that he’s becoming, he slowly forgets about Maria and his role to always

be by her side, as a husband. Furious, Maria had a quick change in personality and started doing

things she normally wouldn’t do like going to parties, getting drunk, taking drugs and pills, etc.

Aside from that, due to the lack of care and love she receives, Maria becomes dependent to seek

love from various men. She convinces herself that it’s love when it’s just another fantasy, she

continues to let these men objectify her and perceive her as nothing more than a needy woman.

As a result, she forgets who she is and what she’s worth only to cope with the reality that she’s

devastated, heartbroken and hurt that Carter left her.

Maria seek out to these men for love and comfort but instead she experiences physical

abuse and rape. This incident affected her physical, mental and emotional health. For instance,

she had an affair with scriptwriter, Les Goodwin; turns out she got pregnant. Obviously, it wasn’t

going to work out knowing that Maria had Carter and Les had Felicia, his wife. Maria was forced

to get the abortion because Carter had said, “All right, don’t do it. Have this kid [...] and I’ll take

Kate” (Didion). Carter knew that mentioning Kate would get her to do whatever he pleases.

Maria didn’t do so well after the abortion, she instantly felt guilty and even had recurring

nightmares of children. Broken, Maria suffered a severe trauma and stress from this incident

causing her mental stability to degrade. She claims that ‘nothing matters’ and that her life is

completely worthless and empty. However, Maria seem to always need the presence of a man in

order for her to be happy and at peace. She always feels like she needs to call out for help, and

it’s definitely not from the right people. Furthermore, she made a call to Larry Kulik, the man
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who lives near Maria and Carter who often throws parties. “You were going to come over and

use the sauna,” Larry Kulik said [...] “You think I need a sauna.” Maria replied. “I think you

need something [...] I’m a good friend to people I like, think it over.” he said (Didion). That

whole conversation between Maria and Larry sounded pretty suspicious to me, he was obviously

referring to sex. Larry wanted Maria to come over so he could abuse her and sleep with her. She

was constantly abused by these men, nevertheless, she lets them do these things to her and avoid

stopping it which frankly shows that she likes the attention they’re giving her, no matter the

circumstances. Soon, she finally realized that these men didn’t truly love her, they just viewed

her as a sexual encounter and she was tired of being treated like a ‘whore.’

At a point in her life, Maria became fully aware that no one that truly cares about her, she

lets her loneliness and emotional emptiness consume her which what leads to her neediness and

poor-making decisions. Essentially, Maria’s whole life had been taken from her, piece by piece.

People used her, took advantage of her as well as view her as an object for sex, rather than a

strong, independent woman. Throughout the novel, you can see the change in Maria’s behavior

and personality which can also be referred to a bipolar disorder. An article claimed that ‘chronic

stress can lead to mood disorders such as depression, anxiety, cognitive problems, personality

changes and problem behaviors’ (Mills). All of these characteristics define Maria and the result

of everything she’s dealt with in her past life. She constantly gets rejected and thrown away

leaving her feeling used and unwanted. For instance, that night she decided not to go to the

desert with Carter, Helene and BZ. She stayed home and drunk ex-boyfriend from New York,

Ivan Costello came knocking on her door begging for her to have sex with him but this time

Maria knew better as he stood by her door to convince her to let him in. Not long after that, she
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picked up her phone to call Les Goodwin. “Something bad is going to happen to me.” she

warned him. [...] “I had a fight with Felicia at lunch, I’ve got to have a rewrite by tomorrow

morning…” he replied, showing no care towards Maria whatsoever. As soon as she got off the

phone with Les Goodwin, she packed her bags to drive to the desert where Carter and the others

were. Maria’s actions shows that she had a first option and she had preferred and chose to be

with Les Goodwin rather than her own husband, Carter. It also proves that she is indeed lonely

and in need of attention because when goodwin was not available, she turned to the only option

she had left. She also realizes that out of all the men she’s slept with, the only men who truly

cares about her seems to be Carter despite all the conflicts between them.

In the Hollywood industry, it is usually common for people, celebrities and

actors/actresses to be involved in drama and conflict within other individuals. This novel shines a

light on the effects of culture industry for women whereas most Hollywood novels generally

focuses on male protagonists and masculinity. In today’s society, we’re introduced to

modernism; a philosophical movement that comes with cultural trends and changes. Maria’s

change in identity started developing drastically after being casted as an actress in Carter’s film,

meaning right when she entered the realms of the Hollywood life. The life of a celebrity isn’t
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always what you see on television and the media, there are always another life behind the screens

that nobody but themselves really know about. We can take Maria, for example, she faced all

these challenging obstacles only after marrying a filmmaker and being in two of his movies, that

says a lot about Hollywood. People who are involved in Hollywood are forced to hide who they

truly are, putting up fake identities. This is what goes on in the entertainment industry and it’s

mind-boggling. They do certain things to influence us into thinking that everything we see in the

media are real. For instance, the youtube platform; social media influencers posts videos and title

it something eye-catching that they know the audience would like to see such as “We Broke Up”,

“We’re Getting Married” or sympathetic things like storytime videos “That One Time I Almost

Died”, “My House Got Robbed.” These type of things catches the audience eyes making us click

on these videos due to curiosity, only to find out that it’s ‘clickbait’; c​ontent whose main purpose

is to attract attention and encourage visitors to click on a link to a particular web page, in this

case a youtube video. As we click on these videos, those influencers automatically receive views.

In the youtube industry, views equals money which means the more views you get from the

audience, the more money the youtube company will pay you. Quite similar to Hollywood,

celebrities have to provide content maybe even add a little drama with it in order to make more

money. They do their job so well that they tricked us into believing that everything is what it


Maria Wyeth had every reason to feel the way she felt, having those emotions take over

every part of her body; angry, upset, and broken. She was depressed, ‘depression is usually

associated with an increase in suicidal thinkings, suicidal actions and may make a person more

vulnerable to developing other mental disorders’ (Mills). Maria could’ve took her own life,
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following the footsteps of her mother. Throughout the novel, several scenes stated that she’s also

persistently on the freeways, speeding, shooting signs, even stopping for a brief second on the

road, leaving the audience thinking whether she’s going to commit suicide or ‘keep playing the

game’. She didn’t end up killing herself because of her daughter, Kate. Maria believes that Kate

needs her and so does she, Kate’s the only thing Maria wanted from the start and she still seems

very determined to make that happen.

Work Cited

1. Didion, Joan. “​Play It As It Lays.​ ” Introduction by David Thomson. A novel, John

Leonard,​ The New York Times​, 1970.

2. “​Play It As It Lays​” (1972) Full Movie. [Youtube, uploaded by Andy Seven,

August 8th, 2015.] Link: ​

3. Mills, Harry PH.D. Reiss, Natalie PH.D. Dombeck, Mark PH.D. “​Mental and

Emotional Impact Of Stress​.” Link: ​​. American Addiction Centers.

4. Cotkin, George. ​Existential America.​ Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 2003. Print.

5. Foust, Ronald. “​Family Romances and the Image of Woman’s Fate in Play It As It

Lays.​ ”