The Day of the Locust Essay
The Day of the Locust
Great fiction often surprises the reader, and Homer’s violent response to Adore’s taunts is just such a surprise. This is not to say that, when Homer is struck in the face with the stone, the reader does not feel a violent response is possible. But throughout the novel, the longsuffering Homer bears his cross with a “sweet grin” (West 358). Perhaps a more prescient reader could foresee some latent violence in Homer’s “unruly hands,” but this seems unlikely (264).
And while there are signs that Homer is not mentally sound, his voyeurism outside Faye’s apartment being a prime example, there is little to hint at violence. Throughout the novel, Homer meekly suffers Faye’s abuse. As the scene in the Cinderella Bar closes, Homer shies away from Faye “as though she were going to hit him” (346). This hardly seems like the same character who is capable of violently stomping a little boy to death. Question Two At the end of chapter 19, Homer attends a revival meeting at the Tabernacle of the Third Coming and observes the kind of people who “come to California to die” (264).
The “drained-out, feeble bodies and [the] wild, disordered minds” of the churchgoers presage the qualities of the rioters in the novel’s final scene (337). On one Friday night, a man next to Tod, whose name “most likely was Thompson or Johnson and his home town Sioux City,” stands up to spew “a crazy jumble of dietary rules, economics and biblical threats” (337). He shares the “messianic rage” of the mob who tears Homer apart (338). As he speaks, it is easy to imagine that he has the “fever eyes” of the people whom Homer recognizes as those who some to California to die (264).
Question Three The character that immediately comes to mind with the word “grotesque” is “Honest Abe Kusich” whose claim to honesty on his business card belies his “grotesque depravity” (244). Abe’s physical deformity seems grotesque, but his character is also depraved. As the reader learns late in the novel, he has no compunction about hitting below the belt. And despite his small stature, Abe is the iconic Los Angeles hustler. Part of creating a “grotesque” character depends on establishing a type.
Abe always has a line on a horserace or a cockfight. He thinks nothing of putting the bloody beak of a fighting rooster in his mouth before putting the animal back in the ring. His violent nature, trapped as it is in a little body, echoes the contradictions of Los Angeles itself, where the houses are “queer” mixtures of architectural styles and drag queens sing torch songs at the Cinderella Bar (265). Question Four Early on, the reader learns there is something dangerous about Faye Greener.
Tod senses that her flirtation is an “invitation [not to] pleasure, but to struggle,” that falling for her is like falling off a building (251). The novel does send mixed signals as to whether she is the hapless victim of men’s desires or a treacherous tease who knows exactly the effect she is having. This ambiguity is what makes her character so interesting. With this seeming paradox, West is also exploring questions about what women know about how men see them, whether it can be known if women understand their significance in men’s minds.
In striking her sick father, Faye certainly seems like a villain. But the reader cannot help but sympathize with the her plight after Harry’s death, when she is forced to work at the “sporting house” (252). As the object of male desire and a society built on that desire, Faye often seems like a victim. But she is cruel to men. Perhaps femme fatale does not quite capture Faye as well as objet fatale might. Work Cited West, Nathanael. The Day of the Locust. In Nathanael West: Novels and Other Writings. New York: Library of America, 1997. 241-389.
University/College: University of Arkansas System
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 20 September 2016
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