The Day of the Locust | Study Guide

Nathanael West

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The Day of the Locust | Chapter 5 | Summary

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Summary

Tod Hackett rides in Claude Estee's car to Audrey Jenning's, and en route Claude describes the brothel's madam: once a silent movie star, she had to quit when the talkies arrived. Claude says she runs her business with shrewdness and taste, charging $30.00 for a night's service and keeping half for herself. She protects her girls by meeting all customers in advance, making certain they are men of wealth and position—men with whom she herself would consider spending a night.

Upon their arrival Claude and his guests are welcomed by Audrey Jenning and ushered into a parlor set up with a projector and a portable screen. Provided with drinks, the guests prepare to watch a French film about a maid in a wealthy household who is desired by the adults in the family: a husband, wife, and their son, while the maid, in a tight scanty servant's uniform, erotically prefers the family's young daughter. As Marie, the maid, serves dinner, each family member gropes or ogles her while Marie manages to fondle the young child. Later, Marie retreats to her room and relaxes, wearing a negligee, high heels, and black silk stockings. The child appears at her door, and Marie takes her on her lap and begins to kiss her. One by one, however, the others arrive. Marie conceals each uninvited guest when another shows up. With family members in a closet, a blanket chest, and under the bed, there is another knock on the door. At this the film breaks, and the disappointed guests complain of being teased and cheated. An unruly group, they stamp their feet, whistle, and shout.

Tod, wandering through the house, comes upon a peculiar collection of figurines, all dogs, every breed imaginable, and made of every imaginable material used for decorative pieces. In another room, a woman is singing, and Tod recognizes her as Mary Dove, a friend of Faye Greener's. He reasons that if Mary is working for Mrs. Jenning, perhaps Faye is as well. If so, he could have her for $30.00. With that thought, he returns to the parlor to watch the rest of the film.

Analysis

It is all so matter of fact: a raucous party of men and women who embark on a gala visit to a brothel, and all seem to know the madam and the routine. They have done this before. Audrey Jenning is known for her interest in high culture, preferring to talk about poetry and art. She is considered refined. and is described as a "handsome woman, smooth and buttery, with fair hair and a red complexion." This would seem to be more a description of a woman in a post-impressionist painting than a living breathing "handsome" person—and, handsome, indeed—more often a masculine rather than a feminine attribute. The parlor's furnishings, chairs in flowered chintz, would seem more appropriate to a teen girl's bedroom than a parlor of a sophisticated household. The guests' rude behavior, consisting of whistling and stomping their feet when the film breaks, is perhaps the only appropriate social moment in the chapter. They are visiting a bawdy house and acting accordingly. The consummate oddities are the dog figurines, a collection of what would seem to be both tasteless and artful representations of dogs, good and bad art/craft collected indiscriminately. Most inappropriate, however, is Tod Hackett's surprising notion that it might be all right to purchase Faye Greener's favors, as though he holds no distinction between acts of prostitution and loving liaisons; perhaps his selfishness knows no bounds. Although recently arrived in Hollywood, Tod seems to be as venal and greedy as the locals he criticizes.

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