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The Day of the Locust | Study Guide

Nathanael West

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The Day of the Locust | Chapter 27 | Summary



Tod Hackett is headed toward Homer's when he sees "a dozen great violet shafts of light moving across the evening sky." The searchlights signal the world premiere of a new film, and Tod decides to take a detour and study the crowd. Thousands have already gathered although it is much too early for the celebrities to have arrived. Police are there for crowd control, but their numbers seem inadequate to the size and temperament of the mob. Tod observes that the crowd is mostly lower-middle class and surly. He feels the menace and pushes and squirms his way toward a parking lot and some free space. In his conjecture, the crowd is made of tired and disappointed people who have come to California for retirement but can't afford the luxuries or diversions that make retirement pleasurable. Instead they are bored by the oranges, the passionfruit, and the views of the sea. They craved excitement and read the newspapers every day where they were titillated by "lynchings, murder, sex crimes, explosions, wrecks, love nests, fires, miracles, revolutions, wars. ... Nothing can ever be violent enough" to stir them to activity.

Buffeted by the crowd, Tod sees Homer Simpson, who has appeared out of nowhere, half-dressed with his pants over his pajamas and lugging two suitcases. Tod makes his way through the crowd to Homer, and who tells him he is going back to Wayneville. Tod attempts to find a taxi to take Homer to the train station, telling him to stay put. As soon as Tod leaves, Homer begins walking through the crowd again. Tod comes back and finds Homer sitting on a bench. When Tod offers to carry one of Homer's suitcases, Homer yells "thief!" Afraid Homer will arouse the attention of the police, Tod hangs back to devise a plan to help him. Then Tod sees Adore Loomis teasing and taunting Homer. In a daze, Homer ignores Adore. Angered by being ignored, Adore throws a stone and hits Homer Simpson on the head with it. Homer rises off the bench while Adore tries to run away. The little boy falls, and Homer stomps on his back while Tod tries to pull Homer off the child—resorting to striking and punching him. The crowd rushes in and picks up Homer, carrying him toward destruction in one direction and causing Tod to go in another.

The dense crowd prevents easy movement, and Tod gets stuck in compromising contact with a young woman. He helplessly watches as another young woman is assaulted, while another seems to enjoy the inappropriate contact with a stranger. He is injured as the crowd moves, and he is ultimately saved by the police, who are able to lift him out from a violent surge of the mob. He is in a police car being carried to safety when he hears a siren scream. At first he thinks the noise is coming from his lips. Then he recognizes the mechanical sound, and laughing, he imitates the "siren as loud as he could." Tod has lost his detached composure and, perhaps, his mind as the story ends.


The rage of the mob is inescapable—it spells the end for Homer Simpson and for Adore Loomis. Tod barely gets his reprieve. His leg is broken or badly injured, and it takes police officers to pull him to safety. The narrative trails off rather than concludes. The reader has arrived at the day of the locust, the destruction of sustenance as part of a natural cycle. The absence of good will among men and women would seem more to the point, and in a contemporary landscape that mirrors the disappointments and struggles of the working class in a culture where rich and poor are further apart than ever, the 21st-century reader can only appreciate the ongoing relevance of West's vision for humanity. Rather than the prospect of a film narrative offering the sort of escapism and vicarious release to which Hollywood staked claim, the novel reveals the dark underside of the tensions of difficult times and a disintegration of community and shared sympathies.

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