The Day of the Locust | Study Guide

Nathanael West

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The Day of the Locust | Quotes


It is hard to laugh at the need for beauty and romance, no matter how tasteless, even horrible, the results of that need are.

Narrator, Chapter 1

Even through his horror at the artificiality of all he sees around him, Tod Hackett recognizes a deeply human need—or cry—for at least the representations of fantasy, for more than ordinary life offers. Readers might note the cynicism in the creators of these poor imitations of past cultures, not even built to stand the test of time. Readers might also notice Tod's condescension in his somewhat adolescent analyses of what he sees.


The little man excited him and in that way made him feel certain of his need to paint.

Narrator, Chapter 2

Tod Hackett, who seems detached from reality, is almost erotically attached to his need to paint. This need stems not from the desire to make things handsome but to confront brute reality. He is excited when he sees the dark or unpleasant underside of a person or an object. He seems to believe the truth is exposed in the negative side of things, and he wants to paint the true and authentic.


She was supposed to look inviting, but ... If you threw yourself on her, it would be like throwing yourself from ... a skyscraper.

Narrator, Chapter 3

Tod Hackett is intrigued by a publicity photo of Faye Greener, in which her glamour is derived from a patently phony, sultry pose. He detects a propensity for violence in Faye, part of what he sees as her misunderstanding of what confronts her or impedes her progress. The impression she makes in the photo produces an incitement to violence in Tod.


'Here, you black rascal! A mint julep.' A Chinese servant came running with a Scotch and soda.

Claude Estee, Chapter 4

Claude Estee's version of hospitality is a bad joke, a parody of the manners of the Old South. At the same time, this scene is a parody of the habit of performance that has taken over the ordinary habits of Hollywood denizens. That the charade unselfconsciously recalls the racism and the hypocrisy of an earlier time may be a reflection of a cavalier racism or Claude's personal dramatic flair unaffected by historical reality of changed times.


For all his size and shape, he looked neither strong nor fertile. He was like one of Picasso's great sterile athletes.

Narrator, Chapter 8

Homer is waiting for the tub to fill; he is full of suppressed emotion. He is naked and about to have a recollection he cannot repress about his single sexual opportunity. He is just like one of Picasso's athletes, large male figures poised to move but clearly incapable, inert in an attitude of very great but suppressed power. He only looks the part; there is no substance to his will.


He somehow knew that his only defense was chastity, that it served him like the shell of a tortoise, as both spine and armor.

Narrator, Chapter 12

Homer Simpson is thinking of Faye Greener. His self-reflection yields an authentic version of who he is in contrast to the self-deluding Tod Hackett or Faye Greener. The weight of the irony is revealed since Homer, who is authentically himself, has survival instincts but cannot survive among the actors and other deceivers.


Wherever weeds could get a purchase in its steep banks they flowered in purple, blue, and yellow. Orange poppies bordered the path.

Narrator, Chapter 14

This chapter is used to contrast the unnatural cityscape and artificiality seen in the characters from the city so far. The natural details give one of the few realistic glimpses found in the novel.


They stopped to watch a hummingbird chase a bluejay. The jay flashed by squawking with its tiny enemy on its tail.

Narrator, Chapter 14

This central chapter, set away from the city, presents Tod Hackett with the opportunity for authentic feelings tied to his responses to the non-threatening beauty of the natural world. He experiences excitement in this place and a personal epiphany—revealed to be peculiarly false, raising the issue once more of whether truth is accessible given human psychology.


He wanted the city to have quite a gala air as it burned, to appear almost gay.

Narrator, Chapter 14

Tod Hackett rethinks his painting after falling into a clump of wild mustard that smells fresh and sharp. He had been chasing Faye Greener when he fell. His environment loses its menace after he fails in his pursuit of Faye. However, his drive for authenticity seems to fail in the light of a good mood, and his new vision is unconvincing as he ties gala burning to a holocaust of fire.


Feeling is of the heart and nerves and the crudeness of its expression has nothing to do with intensity.

Narrator, Chapter 15

Tod Hackett studies Harry Greener's face, comparing it to a mask, with "broad furrows ... plowed there by years of broad grinning and heavy frowning." Extreme expression comes so easily to the actor that Tod wonders if "actors suffer less than other people" and if depth of feeling is an easy act. He immediately reconsiders. Yet another version of appearance versus reality is tested here.


Her beauty was structural like a tree's, not a quality of her mind or heart. Perhaps even whoring couldn't damage it.

Narrator, Chapter 17

Tod's utter dedication to appearance is beginning to suggest a moral failing rather than a dedication to the artist's eye.


It was the classic mistake, Tod realized, the same one Napoleon had made.

Narrator, Chapter 18

Sometimes, at least in the mind of the artist, appearance and reality line up. This is a parody of a simile, an entirely forced comparison. The struts of the unfinished set give way, echoing—according to Tod Hackett—the ditch that trapped the troops at Mont St. Jean. The reader learns nothing from this comparison except that Tod is not a brilliant thinker. Tod is lost in the wilderness of many sets as he chases Faye. His activity thus is a good metaphor for his hapless pursuit.


He seemed to know what the words meant ... his buttocks writhed and his voice carried a top-heavy load of sexual pain.

Narrator, Chapter 19

Adore Loomis sings a sexually explicit song inappropriate to his age and experience. It is not likely that his act has been perfected by his experience. Practice makes perfect and suggests that cognitive habits, good or bad, take over as part of personality. This is particularly true in Hollywood, where to act means to become real.


What a perfect escape the return of the womb was.

Narrator, Chapter 25

Tod Hackett finds Homer Simpson rolled into a fetal ball and speculates on the regressed state as the primal solace for the defenseless Homer. The reader might also wonder at Tod's appreciation of this extreme of self-protection.


It was the siren. For some reason this made him laugh and he began to imitate the siren as loud as he could.

Narrator, Chapter 27

Tod Hackett as sensitive artist, who finds excitement in authentic violence the catalyst for his art, seems almost to express relief that what has been pent up or concealed has finally let loose. The laugh is both knowing and bitter as though Hollywood is just what he thought it was.

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