The book The Day of the Locust by Nathanael West, tells the story of some people who came to California in search of the American Dream. They travel west hoping to get away from the less than perfect lives and pursue success in Hollywood. The characters in this novel dream of a life of luxury, making lots of money, and living a good life. They eventually come to the realization that the glamorous life that California represents is not as easy to attain as they once thought. The characters grow discontented and disappointed with their lives and bitter towards the world, which instigates the downfall of this lower level of Hollywood society.
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Nathanael West was born in New York City in 1903. His real name was Nathan Wallenstein Weinstein. West was the first of three children and the only boy. He was very close to his father and his youngest sister. West was not that academically distinguished, he withdrew from Tufts University after only two months. Baseball was his passion, but he would daydream in the outfield. He was hit in the head by a fly ball and it bounced off for a homerun, he was given the nickname “Pep”, which stayed with him the rest of his life. West graduated from Brown in 1924 and rewrote his first story The Dream Life of Balso Snell. He was able to get it privately published in 1931. West’s last novel was published in 1939, selling only about 1,500 copies. West died in 1940 while returning from a hunting trip. Since his death, his novel The Day of the Locust has sold over 250,000 copies, his reputation has risen continuously (Hyman).
Tod Hackett is an artist who came to Hollywood to learn set and costume designing. After walking around Los Angeles, Tod sees people that are “of a different type”(West 23). Tod wants to paint these people who he believes came to California to die. Throughout the book Tod’s painting, “The Burning of Los Angeles”, is coming to life. In the last section of the book West has Tod in a mob scene. Tod is painting the people he has met. He is painting Faye; “Faye ran proudly throwing her knees high. Harry stumbled along behind her, holding unto his beloved derby hat with both hands” (West 201). This quote shows Tod’s view of Faye and her relationship with her father. Tod sees Faye as a selfish person who treats her father with little respect. In chapter 11, Faye hits her father to stop him from laughing (West 77). That scene shows that Faye is more concerned about herself than her dying father. Faye shows her selfishness when she first meets Homer and is talking about her father’s condition. Faye Greener’s character represents nature, “the version of nature that is deceptive” (Sanderson).
Homer Simpson came to California with a different goal than the other characters in The Day of the Locust. He seeks only to rest and not to be bothered by anybody. (88). Homer’s downfall is inevitable as soon as he begins to associate with the lower levels of Hollywood. Homer’s shyness and inability to stand up for himself makes him a good target to be a victim of Faye’s arrogant ways. Simpson’s love for Faye blinds him from this obvious reality, while she walks all over him. Faye constantly uses Homer when she needs help and ignores him when he has problems. This vicious cycle eventually leads to the breakdown of Homer Simpson. When a young boy throws a rock a Homer, he viciously unleashes all of his built up emotions of frustration on this poor boy. West describes the scene in which this occurs as a regular free for all (147). Simpson becomes yet another casualty of the effect that Hollywood can impose upon a person as well as the tragic and prevalently violent repercussions which happen.
The novel is set around two similar actions: Tod Hackett’s and Homer Simpson’s self-destructive pursuits of Faye Greener. However, it uses many other symbolic devices to suggest ideas which are difficult to connect to Tod’s and Homer’s experiences. Unlike Homer, Tod understands much of his experiences, and he is constantly observing and analyzing Hollywood life. His point of view blends with the author’s, and the critical stance is usually identifiable with Tod’s. Homer, on the other hand, has little understanding of the environment and of his own motives. His responses are treated as sarcasm because he is deceived by the shoddiness around him, and thus he resorts to clumsy defenses. Both men pursue what is artificial, shallow, and glittering, as well as the explosively sexual Faye Greener, a symbol of Hollywood’s falsity and the deceptive American dream. Partly aware of this, Tod still wants her, but he knows that he can’t have her and, he knows that his drive is destructive and in vain.
Faye Greener is a seventeen-year-old, platinum blonde would-be Hollywood actress and sex goddess. Shallow, heartless, and manipulative, she provides the focus of attention for most of the male characters. Faye’s first name suggests fairy lightness, and her last name suggests the green freshness of nature. Her true character is a parody of these qualities. Faye possesses a mature body and plump breasts and well rounded buttocks. She often dresses child like, accentuating her teasing offer of forbidden sex to the men who look at her. She has been trained by her father to think of herself as a theatrical performer and to act with a maximum of artificiality. Faye is in accord with the American illusion that ambition and will are the equivalent of talent. Although she has no real acting ability, she may not really be unintelligent, for in her environment, using her brain could serve no purpose. Self-criticism would only lower her defenses against the predatory Hollywood world.
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In Critical essay written by Gloria Young, she calls The Day of the Locust an “apocalyptic vision of impending twentieth-century Holocaust”. The novel could be perceived as some of a biblical aspect. Tod Hackett could fill the role of Jeremiah (Young). Tod paints himself into his picture “The Burning of Los Angeles” by running wildly in the torch-carrying horde. West also uses the symbolic imagery of the New and Old Testaments to reveal the ending of a corrupt world. In another Critical essay the novel is called a “realistic novel about an unreal city” (Nadel).
The Day of the Locust does not look at the good things about Hollywood, it looks at the part that no one wants to see or deal with. The novel shows all the struggles and hardships that come with trying to make it the movie or acting business. The novel focuses on the despairs of the out-of-work actors trying to make a name for themselves in Hollywood. The characters in The Day of the Locust feel that they have been swindled out of a perfect dream life. In turn each of them chooses to live a fake life. West’s Hollywood is made up of retrogression and brothels, of failure and sexual desire, of cock-fighting and third rate boarding houses.
This novel is difficult to interpret because it utilizes various methods to convey its themes, which are not always clearly interrelated. The novel sags in some parts but picks back up at the cockfight and is superb for the rest of the story. The sexual frustrations that go on between Tod and Faye, he wants to get her in his bed, but she does not want him. There is also another man that was obsessed with Faye, which was Homer Simpson. West wanted to tell the story this way, because it was a story from his life (some of it anyway). The story could be a look at what we have to look forward to in the future. The Day of the Locust is in one way or another, a look at the Depression of the 1930’s.
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