The Day of the Locust | Study Guide

Nathanael West

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The Day of the Locust | Chapter 8 | Summary

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Summary

The flashback continues. Homer Simpson is efficiently settling into the house in Pinyon Canyon, putting his clothes away and not changing anything in the house when he decides to take a nap and a hot bath. He cries in the bath and struggles to avoid sad thoughts from his past. His tears, however, bring back the last days of his 20-year-long job as a bookkeeper in a hotel. On one fateful day he is asked by his manager to collect a past due bill from a woman who is known as an alcoholic. Alone with the disgraced woman in her room, Homer, encouraged by her troubles, is drawn to her and begins to caress her. Full of sympathy, he drops his wallet in her lap. Just as she invites him to join her on the bed, the phone rings and Homer flees. The next day, he learns she paid her bill and left. He tries to find her in the other hotels and boarding houses in town and concludes that she has left town.

Homer goes back to his usual 12-hour day, "working ten hours, eating two," for a while, and then he catches the cold that sends him to California. He is not worried since he can manage without working for a while. He has an inheritance of around $6,000 and an additional $10,000 he has saved over the 20 years he worked keeping books for the hotel.

Analysis

This chapter contains odd details about Homer Simpson. He worries, for one thing, when he contemplates a nap because it is difficult for him to wake up. He does nap and sets an alarm, which awakens all of him except for his hands—which are very large in proportion to his body. He recalls that as child he stuck pins into his sleeping hands. This day, he fills the bathroom sink with cold water and "carrie[s] his hands" to the sink. When they are "thoroughly chilled" and beginning to "crawl about," he hides them under a towel to dry, and then he takes a warm bath. In the bath he cries in earnest and recalls the episode in Romola Martin's hotel room when he had been sent to collect Romola's overdue bill. He was very shy once he was alone with Romola, and the reader has the sense that Homer has not been with a woman in a compromising situation.

Romola herself is a bit of a mystery, left un-investigated. She is wearing a man's dressing gown, and with her short hair and pink complexion, she is boyish in appearance. Although Homer does embrace her, he is interrupted by the phone, and he leaves abruptly. This would seem to be the lost opportunity he mourns in California, a haunting memory of what was likely his single, potentially sexual encounter, characterized by a subsuming heat that he found compelling and repugnant. At the end of the chapter, Homer, full of denial and closed off from the world, works hard until he catches cold and then moves to Hollywood.

That Homer was not at fault and had only good intentions with respect to Romola demonstrates the deeply neurotic roots of his guilt. Although we don't know his whole story, we come to learn the extent of his suffering. Since his hands are the focus of his guilt symptom and he recalls the problem from childhood, one might guess that his early sexual development had been somehow punished or interrupted.

Likely his guilt over his sexual near-miss is the occasion of his currently sleeping hands, a symptomatic disavowal of responsibility in what for him was clearly a deeply shameful, early-life incident. Like many artists of his period, West was a New York elitist and no stranger to psychoanalysis. Homer's Iowa upbringing and his innocence suggest a repressed early life that would account for the aggressive independence of his hands, a symptom of masturbation guilt gone renegade.

Homer's back story provides foreshadowing for what is to come for him. In a way Homer's fate by the end of the novel will almost inevitable, as if Faye Greener steps in where Homer left off with Romola Martin. Homer's storyline carries the thrust of the theme about survival and violence in The Day of the Locust. Characters like Homer, sensitive and emotionally damaged, do not stand a chance in the 1930s survival-of-the-fittest atmosphere. In Hollywood, Homer's docility gives him an even worse prognosis for survival.

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