“Maria drove the freeway. She dressed every morning with a greater sense of purpose than she had felt in some time…Once she was on the freeway and had maneuvered her way to a fast lane she turned on the radio at high volume and she drove. She drove the Sand Diego to the Harbor, the Harbor up to the Hollywood, the Hollywood to the Golden State, the Santa Monica, the Santa Ana, the Pasadena, the Ventura” (15-26)
Maria’s driving gives her a sense of purpose and freedom (when in reality her driving is actually purposeless in that she drives only for the sake of driving rather than going somewhere or accomplishing anything). What Maria’s driving represents is an attempt at escape from her haunting past and depressing present—when she drives, she only thinks about driving, and afterwards, she doesn’t dream. No matter how far Maria drives though, she ends up at the same place at the end of the day, and never gets herself out of the rut she is in. For her, it is a way to mindlessly fill her time, but for readers, it represents how little meaning is in Maria’s life.
“Maria found herself in Baker. She had never meant to go as far as Baker, had started out that day as every day, her only destination the freeway. But she had driven out the San Bernardino and up the Barstow and instead of turning back at Barstow…she kept driving” (30)
While Maria’s driving is an attempt to flee her past, it is also a return to it somewhat. As Maria drives east, toward Baker, she is on the road back into Nevada—where she was born. In a later passage, Maria steals a car and tries to drive it to Tonopah, near her hometown of Silver Wells. By driving eastward, does Maria actually regress?
The fact that Maria “found herself in Baker” shows just how little agency and control Maria has over her own life. She is surprised at how far she has gone, even though she is the one doing the driving. Even in her driving, which should give her a sense of control, she seems to be guided by outside forces and to lose her sense of self.
“Maria stood in the sun on the Western street and waited for the young agent from Freddy Chaikin’s office” (140)
Didion’s calling Western Ave. “the Western street” is highly symbolic for Maria. In attempting to meet with her agent, she is trying to move her life forward, with “west” representing forward and progressive movement. Yet, like her similar attempt to contact Les Goodwin (and thus make a positive step in her life), she is foiled. Her agent does not come, and his underling offers her a low-quality part. Is Maria self-destructive, or are external sources keeping her from moving forward, or both?