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The Day of the Locust | Study Guide

Nathanael West

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The Day of the Locust | Chapter 11 | Summary



Homer Simpson has been living in his rented house on Pinyon Canyon for about a month when Harry Greener shows up, selling silver polish. Homer immediately notices how old and thirsty Harry looks and invites him in. Homer gives Harry some water, and thus refreshed, Harry starts his spiel. Harry's sales pitch consists of snatches of old vaudeville routines that utterly confound Homer. Harry, however, is having symptoms of heart troubles at the same time he is cavorting, trying to hook Homer into buying the polish. When Homer recognizes that Harry is in trouble, he goes outside to look for help and discovers Faye Greener standing and waiting for her father. Homer invites Faye in and makes lunch, which the 17-year-old girl greedily devours. Eventually Harry and Faye leave, but not before Harry plants ideas in Homer's mind, such as taking in boarders and pursuing Faye.


The rhythm of the meeting between Harry Greener and Homer Simpson works like a vaudeville routine. They carry on a stilted conversation, each missing the other's point. Homer pretends to understand and laughs or sympathizes inappropriately. Harry, in denying how ill he feels, takes off on old vaudeville routines and demonstrates a repertory of wild laughs. Homer's loneliness and utter innocence and Harry's barely masked desperation are on display in this chapter.

Both Faye Greener and Harry Greener demonstrate their disappointments and survival strategies—Faye in her greediness and Harry in his ability to play on Homer's sympathies. Yet Homer can only react to Faye's attractions. Although she is 17—an optimum age for many of the famous beauties of 1930's films—she has not been "discovered," and the reader can assume that it is unlikely she will be. Homer, however, is as captivated as a 12-year-old boy might be, and as the visitors prepare to leave, Homer cannot control his hands. The scene becomes both a farce and a sad prediction of Homer's fate as he washes dishes, attempting to calm his excited hands. Faye is too self-involved to notice anything but her own needs. She and Harry play out their family cruelty game, presented as a joke, when he teases her with his repertory of laughs and the song, "Jeepers Creepers," until she punches him in the mouth. Faye blithely explains to Homer the ordinary nature of their practice. As the pair leave, Homer slips Harry a dollar for the silver polish he doesn't need. Harry is not pleased—his value-system has evolved from gaming a person who is innocent of the deception he perpetrates. Harry is angry with Homer, who clearly understands Harry's need and does not know how to play Harry's game, which is intended to conceal Harry's shame at his impoverished state.

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