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The Day of the Locust | Study Guide

Nathanael West

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The Day of the Locust | Chapter 7 | Summary



This chapter, a retrospective narration or flashback, traces Homer Simpson's introduction to Hollywood. Tod Hackett correctly assumes Homer has come to California from the Midwest. After a bout with pneumonia, Homer's doctors directed him to California, and Homer complied. Easily bullied or, at the least, inexplicably passive and eager to do the bidding of others, Homer rents a home he finds odd in appearance but his agent insists is "cute." The home is the last house on the street and backs up to Pinyon Canyon, which is covered with wild flowers and native trees—a bit of California. The agent also promises Homer he will see doves and quail there, yet Homer so far has seen only spiders and a lizard. Able to find some good in anything, or perhaps merely accepting the hand dealt him, Homer, who feels deserving of so little, has come to like the minimal sign of life in his backyard, the hungry lizard.

The rent for the house is cheap because it is so very odd—probably hideous to all but affable Homer. Each room contains elements of what seem to be parodies of a distinct national or regional style—ranging from Ireland to Spain to New England. Surfaces everywhere are made to fool the eye: a "dresser painted to look like unpainted pine"; an iron bedstead grained to look like wood; paper lamp shades oiled to look like parchment; and paper thatch for the roof painted and ribbed to look like straw. Everything is fake and a failed version of what it is made to represent.


Half the chapter is taken up by the house's description, and with this peculiar imbalance of description and action, the tone of the piece has changed as well. Nothing is quite right here; the comic touches are unpleasant rather than amusing. The artificiality, which Tod seems to dismiss in the first chapter and which excites him in the second chapter, has turned toxic. Homer's character is hardly natural in his inability to choose for himself or take note of his own disappointments. His survival instincts are as passive as his tastes and inclinations. Homer's lack of interest in his surroundings, despite the extended descriptions of each room in his rental house, in comparison to Tod's scrutiny of Hollywood houses in the novel's opening section, demonstrates his disconnection with ordinary life. With Homer's passivity, stated but not developed, the style of the text has shifted from real to surreal, from naturalism to parody—not unlike the experience of walking about or living on a movie lot as Homer performs the rudiments of existence rather than living a life.

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