The Day of the Locust | Study Guide

Nathanael West

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The Day of the Locust | Chapter 20 | Summary

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Summary

Over a period of time, Faye Greener becomes bored living with Homer Simpson. The kinder and more generous he is, the more she mistreats him. Tod Hackett is getting ready for bed one night when Faye and Homer drop by and insist he come along with them to the Cinderella Bar, a club whose entertainment consists of female impersonators. At the bar Faye demonstrates her antipathy to Homer, humiliating him by forcing him to drink and insulting him when he refuses. She resorts to pouring champagne and then brandy into Homer's mouth, which he resolutely keeps closed before finally relenting. Tod dances with Faye and begs her one last time to sleep with him, but she refuses. Back at the table, Tod learns that Earle Shoop and his friend Miguel are living in Homer's garage, where they are raising gamecocks and training them to fight. Homer hates the situation but is reluctant to ask the men to leave, parroting Faye's assertion that times are hard and the men have nowhere to go. Faye tells Tod that the men are planning a cockfight with some birds brought from San Diego. As Faye leans toward Homer, he flinches as though he fears she will hit him. Noticing that, she tries to be kind to Homer, touching his hair and straightening his collar.

Analysis

What began as a farce has turned into something visceral and ugly. The comedy has been lost from the book in this scene and replaced with something much darker. Beautiful Faye Greener is capable, as the reader has known all along, of unkindness and lack of respect for others. Moreover, as a creature of her time and place, she seems not to know better. Her survival is at stake, and matters have gone from shameful to worse. She is alone in the world, has prostituted herself to bury her father, and has no guaranteed means of support. Faye is bold in the ways she exploits Homer Simpson, not merely for herself but for her so-called friends. Her degradation is complete in her public and altogether nonchalant cruelty toward Homer, and she has no pride that is not rooted in her physical appearance. Tod Hackett is no longer a mystery. Despite Faye's disgraceful behavior, he is still negotiating to sleep with her. It may be that she demonstrates a modicum of remorse as she tends to Homer at the chapter's close, but it is more likely she is simply covering for her behavior because there are witnesses.

This chapter pushes the notions of self-respect and respect for others, questions of value, as a matter of place and circumstance. The times are hard for most, and the balance between good and evil in the lives of most of the struggling characters here has tipped. Homer, in his stubborn innocence, is not—as Tod had speculated early on—a man who has come to Hollywood to die. In this chapter he is a sacrificial victim of ordinary life, a man without survival strategies. Faye, on the other hand, coming of age in hard times and alone in the world, is a survivor in a world where ethics are determined by material circumstance. Her choices are basically limited: she can be a whore or a parasite. She demonstrates a sad parody of a set of values when she acknowledges to Tod that she chose to work for Mrs. Jenning only to pay funeral expenses: the mortuary fees and the appropriate clothes for a daughter in mourning.

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