The Day of the Locust | Study Guide

Nathanael West

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The Day of the Locust | Chapter 4 | Summary



Tod Hackett arrives at the party at the pretend antebellum mansion of Claude Estee, a successful screenwriter. Estee greets Tod with a phony Southern accent and offers a "mint julep" from his "black servant," who turns out to be a Chinese man carrying a scotch and soda. On the front porch Tod meets Joan Schwartzen, a deeply sunburned woman, who takes him into the garden to see the swimming pool. A dark mass in the pool turns out to be a lifelike blowup of a full-sized dead horse. Joan, who looks like she has an "eighteen-year-old face and a thirty-five-year-old neck," resents that Tod and another guest aren't acting more impressed with the fake horse. Tod considers leaving but is stopped by Claude, who invites him to Audrey Jenning's place, a brothel. Before they leave, Tod attempts to play it "straight" to Claude and confesses to "chasing a girl." Claude comments derisively about the possibility for love and reminds Tod that such tame stories won't sell movies. "What the barber wants is amour and glamour."


Claude Estee's home is unabashedly artificial. The mansion of Southern Colonial architecture gestures to the old South, yet all is pretend—and pretentious. Claude is decked out in expensive woolen clothes entirely inappropriate to the climate and to the event, and his hired help is Chinese and addressed as a black servant. Mrs. Joan Schwartzen, purportedly a tennis champion, makes fun of tennis, talks enthusiastically about visiting a brothel, and interrupts a conversation among a group of men, hoping they are telling dirty jokes. Everyone seems to be posing for a camera. No one seems sincere, including Tod who admits to liking to hear his host talk and then throws him "a lead." He makes fun of "nautch joints," (brothels, whorehouses) calling them "places for deposit" like banks, tombs, vending machines, and mailboxes. The unspoken list of items for deposit indicates the degenerate nature of the conversation, the lack of respect for ordinary humanity. This is confirmed by Claude's notion of the inauthentic romances that will sell for film. Here a few individual names, retain authenticity: Tod is death in German, Schwartzen, also derived from German, indicates a dark skinned individual. For Joan, who is not a woman of color, her tan is presumably a realistic matter of an athlete's overexposure to the sun.

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