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The Day of the Locust | Study Guide

Nathanael West

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The Day of the Locust | Chapter 21 | Summary



Claude Estee learns about the cockfights from Tod Hackett and asks to go. Claude and Tod arrive at Homer Simpson's to discover that the San Diego birds never showed, and the fights are cancelled. Earle Shoop and Miguel are waiting with Abe Kusich in Homer's garage. Claude, who has never seen a fight, buys a bird from Miguel and Earle so that he can see them battle. They sell him an old, war-weary bird that is no match for their champion. Claude doesn't care because he isn't interested in winning; he just wants to witness the spectacle. The fight is bloody and over quickly. Claude's bird, whose broken beak gives way, cannot defend himself for long. He rallies briefly but is killed by the younger, stronger bird. Earle gently handles the dead cock, while Tod passes the whiskey he brought.


The illegal and unfair cockfight and the attitudes of the men in attendance echo the larger human scene. Earle Shoop and Miguel, dressed in their best shirts and high-heeled boots, are costumed for a night of sport. Undeterred when the rival contestants do not show up, they agree to stage a fight without betting. The sport is not a contest, but given the poorly matched birds, it turns out to be what it promises to be: a bloody rout. The men work to prolong the fight even though Hermano, the large old bird, is unable to fight any longer. Sold with a cracked beak, the old-timer is seriously injured and put back into action even after his beak breaks. The old bird is "very gallant," and, despite the men's efforts to prolong the unfair fight, when it is over, the men treat it "gently and with respect."

This degraded reality, a cockfight, which is illegal, is staged for the amusement of the screenwriter, Claude Estee. Earle and Miguel had planned a fight with an audience that would bet on the fights, and they assumed their advantage would be in knowing which of their birds would win and which would lose. Their plan, therefore, was to profit from the fights. When the matches fell through, however, they arranged the single fight merely for the amusement of all who were there. There is nothing to be gained, and it is certain the old bird will be brutally destroyed. The only benefit is a cruel amusement, a relief from boredom or disappointment as though these men, losers in the larger society, could be entertained by the destruction of a creature even more disabled than they are. There is no need for parody or farce to tell the rest of the tale. In an environment whose values are upside down, cruelty and selfishness prevail. Respect has little to do with life and is generated, along with some tenderness, only with the demise of the losing bird, which had no chance. It is, moreover, difficult to avoid seeing the abuse of Hermano as a parallel to the abuse of Homer Simpson by all of the same characters.

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