Skip over navigation

The Day of the Locust

Nathanael West

Chapters 15–17

Chapter 14

Chapter 18–19

Summary

Chapter 15

Tod stops in at the Greeners', where Harry tells him that Faye is at the movies with Homer. Harry asks Tod what is happening on his movie lot. Harry talks happily about his performances until he has to stop in pain. Tod marvels that Harry still continues to act despite truly being sick. Tod notices that Harry's head is almost all face, with little back or top, and that his features allow for only extremes of expression. Tod wonders if actors suffer less than other people, but decides he is wrong. However, he concludes that Harry enjoys self-inflicted suffering, such as putting himself at the mercy of a hostile audience. Tod imagines Harry making an audience follow him through the pathetic history of his life: ambitious young actor marries a beautiful dancer who cheats on him repeatedly, then runs off, leaving him with a baby girl, and misfortune comes.

Faye returns home and she and Tod go out to the hall. Faye tells Tod that Homer is a "dope" and then dismisses Tod, saying she is tired.

Chapter 16

The next day, Tod sees a bunch of people at the Greeners' and learns that Harry has died. Tod goes into the apartment and knocks on Faye's door. Sobbing, she lets him in and he pats her shoulder. Another knock comes at the door and Tod admits Mary Dove, who embraces Faye. Mary exhorts Faye to be brave and reassures her that there is no particular cause for her father's death.

Faye explains that she came home from the studio and, while fixing herself in the mirror, began talking to Harry without waiting for an answer. She talked at length before finally noticing that he was dead. Faye tells Mary and Tod about the fun she and Harry had when she was little, which causes Mary to begin sobbing also. Tod hears another knock and opens to door to find Mrs. Johnson, the janitress. Faye signals to Tod not to let the woman in, so Tod asks her to return later and shuts the door. Mrs. Johnson uses her passkey to reopen the door and let herself into Faye's room. Tod already disliked Mrs. Johnson, whom he had seen in the apartment building before, and later discovers that "her hobby was funerals." Mrs. Johnson authoritatively asks Faye about funeral plans. She tells Faye that she will need $200 for a proper funeral and that she can pay in installments. Mary and Tod volunteer money.

As Mrs. Johnson leaves, Faye seems less distraught, probably because the business talk has distracted her. Faye turns to Mary and asks if she can get into Mrs. Jenning's call-service. Tod sees both girls as suddenly hardened, and realizes that they have switched their speech to slang to make themselves feel more self-sufficient and worldly-wise. Tod again offers to get the money for the funeral so Faye will not have to prostitute herself, but the girls dismiss him and his offer with shouts.

Chapter 17

Tod has drunk heavily in preparation for Harry's funeral so he will have enough nerve to fight with Faye. He bows his head next to Harry's open coffin in the chapel. Mrs. Johnson quarrels with the undertaker about the quality of the coffin. Tod sees Faye and approaches her, speechless. She misunderstands this as pity on Tod's part and sobs harder in self-pity. She looks more beautiful than ever, but Tod can only think of the acts of prostitution she must have committed in order to pay for such nice clothes.

Tod asks to speak with Faye alone. He asks her for a kiss and she grants him one. He refuses to let her go and she becomes annoyed, realizing he is drunk. Tod finally thinks of a line of attack and warns Faye of the diseases she is putting herself at risk of contracting. She ceases fighting him and cries to herself. Tod releases her and she runs out of the room. A man comes in to notify Tod that the funeral services are beginning.

Tod sits behind Faye, Abe Kusich, and various tenants of the San Bernardino Apartments. Tod notices some strange people sitting it the back who have come to watch. He identifies them as similar in spirit to the arsonist crowd of his painting. All at once, the people at the back decide to leave. Tod imagines that they are headed to the site of a reported sighting of a movie star.

The Gingo family—Eskimos brought to Hollywood long ago for a movie about polar exploration who since became friends of Harry—move to the front and gather around Faye, despite Mrs. Johnson's protests. The organist begins playing a Bach chorale, "Come Redeemer, Our Saviour," that Tod's mother used to play on the piano. Tod waits knowingly as the music becomes louder and more impassioned, almost threatening. He wonders if the funeral-goers will respond to the threatening tone of the music. Mrs. Johnson signals for the music to stop, as the time has come to carry Harry's coffin out. She invites last looks at Harry, and bullies those who hold back into coming forward. Tod escapes out of the back of the chapel.

Analysis

Chapters 15–17 focus on Harry's death and thus keep him as a constant background figure, once again held up as an example of a Hollywood masquerader. Like Faye, Harry's artificiality is over the top. Even at his own funeral he looks like an "interlocutor in a minstrel show." Tod imagines that Harry's facial features do not allow him any subtlety of acted emotion. Yet, while Faye does not concern herself with audience reception, Harry—as we have seen in Chapter 11—tries to use the pathos of his own life and his status as an unemployed clown to elicit responses from others. He seeks to make a victim of himself, to put that victim status on display, as we see in his habit of telling his sad life story to unwilling but attentive listeners in bars.

Aside from Harry's death, the other event that dominates these three chapters is Faye's decision to become a call-girl at Mrs. Jenning's. Though Tod tries to prevent Faye from resorting to prostitution, he seemingly does so for his own benefit, not necessarily to protect Faye. He appears to have learned that Faye does not need any protecting; indeed, in Chapter 16, we see that she alleviates her own misery by acting herself back to normal. Tod can allow this acting to take its course, but he cannot participate in this sphere: when he tries to adopt the slang terms that Faye and Mary quickly begin using, the girls reject him. Perhaps sensing that he does not look out for Faye's own good, they tell him to go elsewhere to "peddle" his "tripe." Addressing Tod as a peddler implies that the girls understand he only wants something from them, and that metaphorically he wants them to buy something from him. "Tripe" implies that Tod has nothing of substance or value to offer Faye. As with Homer's gift of his wallet and money to Miss Martin, even potentially well-meaning gifts come across as sordid.

Tod's mental search through various forms of argument—aesthetic, moral, practical—when arguing with Faye about prostitution recalls Mrs. Johnson's argument with the undertaker. Mrs. Johnson scolds the undertaker for substituting for bronze handles, saying, "it's the principle of the thing." Both Mrs. Johnson and Tod invoke some sort of higher authority or standard of ethics to argue their respective cases, which are based far more on their own individual desires than on any sort of moral or ethical principles. Mrs. Johnson is concerned less about the dignity of the coffin than about making the funeral a spectacle. Her complaint about the bronze coffin handles is not related to what Faye wants, or what is worthy of Harry, or even what Faye paid for, but merely reflects Mrs. Johnson's conviction that the funeral must be worth attending and watching. Indeed, an audience of people do attend—Tod notices people from the class of starers, the people who have come to California to die, appear in the back row.

The song that plays at Harry's funeral provides an ironic contrast to the people who attend the service. Tod's cultured and intellectual status is emphasized by the fact that he recognizes the song and knows its progression even before it is played. "Come Redeemer, Our Saviour" is about the search for and continued belief in a God who has not been seen for "seventeen hundred years." At one point, the song becomes slightly threatening, as though the masses of Christian believers have become impatient. At this point the attendees of the funeral respond slightly, in a primal sort of way. Papa Gingo, the Eskimo, "grunt[s] with pleasure." The music recovers itself and ends "free and triumphant," as if the Christians are prepared to wait longer for the prophesied second coming. Tod is, in a sense, a prophet figure himself—a prophet of the uprising of the embittered mass of non-actors in Hollywood. The plot line of the Bach song stands in contrast to Tod's prediction of the Los Angeles apocalypse, in which impatience and threat takes over completely, leaving no hope for recovery or renewal.

The Christian hymn, with its theme of searching for a new leader, also casts irony on the starers sitting in the back, who themselves are searchers, but are searching for movie stars and other spectacles rather than any spirituality. Additionally, Mrs. Johnson, who halts the song, presides as the leader of the funeral in a decidedly unspiritual fashion. She bullies people in the pews into looking at Harry in his coffin, forcing them into a performer-audience relation rather than allowing for a private, personal experience of mourning.

More Help

Previous Next

Readers' Notes allow users to add their own analysis and insights to our SparkNotes—and to discuss those ideas with one another. Have a novel take or think we left something out? Add a Readers' Note!

Follow Us