The Day of the Locust | Study Guide

Nathanael West

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The Day of the Locust | Chapter 14 | Summary

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Summary

There is a third man in Faye Greener's life, a Hollywood cowboy from Arizona. Earle Shoop spends his time—when he hasn't a bit part in a crowd scene of a Western—posing, in full cowboy regalia, in front of Hodge's, a saddlery store that sells western gear. Faye invites Tod Hackett to have dinner with her and Earle. Tired of Earle never having any money, Faye wants him to pay this time. As it turns out, Earle is still broke, so he offers to take Tod and Faye up to the "camp" in the canyon lands where he has some trapped quail he can cook for dinner. They pile into Faye's car and ride to the camp, where Earle's friend Miguel is tending to his game cocks. Earle and Miguel, clearly too poor to rent a room, are living there. After a fireside dinner and lots of tequila, Faye and Miguel begin a dance of seduction.

Just as the dancing heats up, Earle joins in and separates Faye and her partner by slugging Miguel with a heavy stick. Everyone has had too much to drink, and when Faye takes off into the woods, Tod follows. He understands that his moment for an erotic encounter, potentially violent, has arrived. Earle has struck the first blow, and Tod believes he can catch Faye in the woods and have her. He trips and falls, however, and finds himself on his back, marveling at the natural wonders of the scene. He thinks about the fire in his Los Angeles painting: how the "flames would have to compete with the desert sun." Entirely distracted, Tod rests on his back, imagining the scale of the work. When he recovers from his fall and his daze, he rushes to the place where Faye had parked to find that she and her car are gone.

Analysis

In this novel of 27 chapters, Chapter 14 is dead center. In this novel of artificial people and their habitual posing, the middle chapter delivers action that includes the no-longer-suppressed passion of men and women while at the same time it renders California in its natural beauty, both naturally diverse and yet majestic, unique and special. All of the colors of the landscape are there, including a wildflower bloom of yellow, blue, and purple bordered by orange poppies, the pastel rose and purples of the rock face, and the dance of gaudy scarlet hummingbirds and blue jays. The chapter opens with a detailed description of Earle Shoop's cowboy finery, which, despite the homeliness of their destination, includes a well-tailored jacket that he carries, meticulously folded. The trip into the canyons and Tod Hackett's return at the chapter's end document the natural scene. Among the most detailed descriptions in the novel, they are also among the most lyrically written of West's predominantly minimalist prose and biting satire. From the simple grace of gathering, slaughtering, and cleaning the local quail to the flora of the canyons, the reader finds herself in the company of men who respect the land and know it for its bounty. They are survivors for whom city life is just one mode of being. They are after jobs in Hollywood but seem inured to the dreams of riches that continually occupy Faye Greener and her peers.

In this section Faye Greener is a flirt, and Tod, recognizing the intentions of Miguel and Earle, two men of the west, who are rough in style and strangers to him, worries about the attractive young woman who doesn't seem to see that she is playing with fire. When the evening meal erupts into an impromptu dance, with only the cooking gear as the musical accompaniment, natural human instincts take over. Faye's frolic becomes an erotic dance in which her florid partner is Miguel. Earle puts an end to the sexual tension between the dancers in a turn toward violence when he clubs his friend, who falls to the ground unconscious. When Faye runs, Tod follows, his intent to rape her clear but not realized.

Tod ends up on the ground, alone, having clumsily tripped. He is, after all, a man of the city, not of the wilds. He relaxes into his dream of the Los Angeles fire, which, he decides, must take place during the day, when the fire and the brilliant sunlight at high noon compete. The fire is to be less a "terrible holocaust" and more a "gala" celebration, the whole vision less dangerous than he had originally planned. Clearly, his vision is changing. He isn't even so certain men come to California just to die. Still, he is preparing to document the reality in his painting. Fire permeates the plot, both metaphorically, as in passion and Tod's organizing image for his painting, and literally, as in the cooking fire and the heat and light of the sun.

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