The Day of the Locust
Analysis of Major Characters
Tod Hackett is a slow-looking young man who has just left the Yale School of Fine Arts, where he was studying painting, to take a set designing job with National Films in Hollywood. Tod's status as intellectual outsider to the Hollywood scene informs his position in the novel. While his art school classmates may see his new job as set designer as a sellout, Tod has found new artistic challenges in his attempt to paint Hollywood. His biggest challenge is depicting the lower-middle class set of recent Midwestern immigrants to Hollywood who are bitter and disillusioned that Hollywood has not offered them the dream they expected. Tod's keen painter's eye gives the text its visual detail, while his intellectual status gives us built-in critical readings of various characters and interactions. This status also contributes to one of the main tensions of the novel: Tod seems to be a non-participant in many ways, and also seems to position himself as above—or more enlightened than—the other characters. Eventually, however, even Tod begins to be enthralled with some of the same things that enthrall the other characters—a fact that shows through only slightly in the narrative and works against Tod's position as superior observer.
Homer Simpson stands out in The Day of the Locust because he does not fit easily into the categories that Tod has created—Homer is certainly not a performer, like Faye or Harry, but he is not a member of the crowds that Tod hopes to paint either. Nonetheless, Homer is the nearest character to these disillusioned crowds who have come to California to die, and remain on the margins of the novel. Homer is an outsider, like Tod, but from the Midwest rather than the East. Unlike Tod, however, Homer is purposeless, his only aim being to forget an awkward sexual encounter he had with a tenant in the hotel in Iowa where he worked as a bookkeeper. Homer, successful at this repression, is a largely empty character. His liveliest features are his oversized hands, which fidget endlessly and act as an outlet for his repressed desires. A small part of the novel focuses on Homer's point of view, emphasizing the blankness of Homer's daily life and the fear and surprise that he feels when garish Hollywood intrudes upon it. Early in the novel, Tod judges that Homer is not quite one of the "starers," as Homer is shy instead of bitter. Yet, as the novel continues and Homer gives up his hope of sealing himself off from the world—away from sexual women especially—his shyness and meekness become instruments of a new bitterness. Homer victimizes others with his subservience in a passive- aggressive manner. This mutual victimization creates unresolvable tension that eventually erupts into the catastrophic violence that occurs at the end of the novel.
In many ways, Faye is as empty a character as Homer. In the novel's distinction between audience and performers, she is clearly one of the performers. Like her father, Harry, Faye is constantly performing, but unskillfully—like her father, she is capable of only bluntly artificial mannerisms and gestures. Faye's beauty, however, ensures that those around her are nonetheless convinced and entranced by her performances. Faye's beauty and performance are a source of tension, as men constantly misunderstand her empty affection and flirting and become frustrated when they discover that she has no romantic intentions. Tod, in particular, has violent feelings towards Faye—violent feelings that are not easily separated from his attraction to her. These violent feelings stem from Tod's sense that Faye is entirely self-contained and self-sufficient. Faye cheers herself with a set of fantasies that consist of stock Hollywood plot lines, fantasies that require no outside encouragement from others. If West had written a novel that encouraged us to sympathize with characters, Faye would certainly earn our sympathy, as she begins the novel a mere child and ends a orphaned sex-pot. However, Tod, who holds the novel's dominant perspective, holds Faye accountable—through her status as both attractive woman and performer—for much of the dangerous bitterness of the characters.
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