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The Day of the Locust | Study Guide

Nathanael West

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The Day of the Locust | Chapter 17 | Summary



It is the day of Harry Greener's funeral, and Tod Hackett purposefully gets drunk, hoping to find the courage to talk to Faye Greener. When she arrives beautifully dressed for the ceremony, Tod realizes where she has found the money to outfit herself. Although he is repulsed by the thought that she made it "on her back," he still finds her irresistibly beautiful. He attempts to lecture her on her choices but succeeds only in upsetting her. He thinks about skipping out on the funeral, but Mrs. Johnson stops him. Tod spends most of the funeral thinking about the others who are there and about the musical selection, Bach's "Come Redeemer, Our Saviour."


Tod Hackett seems unable to convey genuine condolences to Faye Greener. He is preoccupied with everything around him and has a narrative to explain the motives of most of those who are at the funeral. As usual, he thinks his motives are pure while everyone else has a venial reason for being there. He spends most of the time during the service constructing a narrative about the music and its reception. His ideas are disturbingly childish, attributing power to the bass portions of the chorale and a sort of impatience while the soaring treble makes its statement "without arrogance or humility." The bass is masculine in his analysis, and the treble is feminine. He recalls that his mother played a piano adaptation of the piece "on Sundays at home." He seems to connect his mother's role to the "shy and gentle Christ" and a "polite" supplication, while Bach is identified with impatience and a threat. As congregants rise to pay their respects, Tod takes the opportunity to flee. It becomes increasingly difficult for readers to trust Tod's judgment as they encounter his continuing sense of superiority regarding others whom he knows only from a distance. His odd conception of the Bach's "Come Redeemer, Our Saviour" also confirms his limited and decidedly immature means for making sense of his world.

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