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The Day of the Locust

Nathanael West

Chapters 20–21

Chapter 18–19

Chapters 22–23

Summary

Chapter 20

As Faye and Homer continue their business arrangement, she becomes bored and aggressive toward him. In response, he becomes more servile, making her even angrier. One night, Homer knocks on Tod's door, explaining that Faye is in the car and wants them all to go to a nightclub. They drive to the Cinderella Bar, where the show consists of men in drag. Faye insists that Homer have a drink, although he never drinks because it makes him sick. Faye pours Homer's first drink down the front of his shirt when he refuses to open his mouth, then orders another and another for him and forces them into his mouth.

Tod and Faye dance and she begins to cry. He pleads with her to sleep with him, but she refuses because she says she does not love him. When they return to the table, Homer seems tipsy and willing to be a good sport. Faye continues to deride him. The three of them watch a man in a red dress sing a lullaby to an imaginary baby. During the song, the man seems truly a woman to Tod, and only appears to be an actor impersonating a man after the song ends. Homer and Tod applaud, but Faye claims she hates "fairies," then asks Homer meanly if he knows what a fairy is.

A man comes and asks Faye to dance. Homer elaborately explains to Tod that he hates Earle Shoop's one black hen that gets bullied by the gamecocks. Homer inadvertently reveals that he is letting Miguel and Earle live in his garage at Faye's request. Miguel apparently knows that Homer hates the hen, and therefore forces him to look at it. Tod advises Homer to report the illegal chickens to the police. Homer continues talking about the grotesque hen, reluctant to reply directly to Tod's suggestion that he throw the men out.

Faye comes back to the table and Homer shushes Tod to keep him from mentioning their conversation. Nonetheless, Faye guesses they have been talking about Earle, Miguel, and the chickens. Tod confronts Faye for taking advantage of Homer's generosity. She feels ashamed tries to recover, first by asking Tod to dance, and when he refuses, then by praising Miguel's chickens. Homer seconds her praise and Faye invites Tod to a cockfight in Homer's garage the next night. Faye feels even more ashamed when Homer shrinks from her as though expecting to be hit a moment later. She acts nicely towards Homer for the rest of the evening.

Chapter 21

Tod and Claude Estee, who has asked to come, arrive at Homer's for the cockfight. Miguel, Earle, and Abe Kusich are in Homer's garage, with Faye's car parked in front shining its headlights on the men. Abe reports that the official cockfights are off because the opponent—a man from San Diego—did not show up. There is a homemade oval pit on the floor of the garage for that is used for the cockfights. Claude, Tod, and Abe sit down on an old trunk. Abe is restless and shoves Tod. When Earle laughs, Abe threatens to hit him and Earle eggs him on. Although Abe is not genuinely trying to get free, Tod holds the dwarf back. Earle spits on Abe's shoe.

Claude admits that he has never seen an actual game chicken or a chicken fight. Miguel brings out his prize cock, Juju, for Claude to see. Claude offers to buy another cock from Miguel and Earle so they can fight them. Miguel selects Hermano, a large red bird, for Claude and sells him for fifteen dollars. Abe offers to handle the bird for Claude, but Miguel quietly insists that Earle will do it because he knows the bird better. Miguel prepares Juju for the fight and Earle starts to prepare Hermano. Abe is skeptical of Hermano's fighting skill, convinced that Earle and Miguel are trying to cheat.

Unhappy with Earle's preparation technique, Abe insists to be allowed to handle the bird. He thinks he finds more defects with the bird, but agrees to fight anyway, without betting. Miguel and Abe hold their birds face-to-face to anger them, and then place them in the pit. Over a series of rounds, Juju incapacitates Hermano by rising up in the air and striking his opponent from above. Between each round, Abe mournfully tries to nurse Hermano back to liveliness, but Juju finally succeeds in killing Hermano by driving one of his talons through Hermano's eye and into his brain. Juju continues attacking the dead bird until Abe screams for Miguel to remove him. Earle solemnly picks up the dead bird. Tod continues to drink whiskey with the rest of the men.

Analysis

Chapter 20 reemphasizes the sexual violence of the novel and acts as a buildup to the final scenes. Throughout much of the chapter we see Faye bullying Homer, who, much like Harry, seeks to use his victim status as a passive-aggressive weapon. In response to Faye's mean treatment, Homer makes himself more servile and acquiescent, somewhat successfully inducing feelings of guilt and responsibility in Faye. In many ways, Faye also acts like Harry, using laughter as a weapon to humiliate Homer.

Homer's obsessive descriptions of Earle's nasty black hen create a disturbing image of one ratty female chicken tortured by the other male chickens. Homer, however, reserves his hatred for the hen, describing her as the instigator—she "clucks so nasty"—rather than the bullying male chickens. Homer reports that the hen does not bother Faye, who thinks "it's only natural." This remark foreshadows the situation that unfolds at Homer's the following night, when a handful of men lust after Faye herself.

The background performance of female impersonators relates the novel's theme of masquerading to antagonism and perversion. The performance of a man dressed as a woman singing a motherly lullaby does not seem perverse or obscene to Tod until the actor returns to impersonating a male when the song is over. Faye's reaction to the performance—"I hate fairies"— demonstrates the feelings of repulsion that role-playing can inspire, if not display.

Chapter 21 raises the level of violence in the novel, making the undercurrents of antagonism more explicit, first with the fight between Abe and Earle and then the brutal cockfight. In each case, the fight emphasizes the higher stature of one of the fighters: the narrator emphasizes Earle's height over Abe, who is referred to not as "Abe" but as "the dwarf;" similarly, the Juju's victory over Hermano, the red bird, is inevitable from the start. Abe's sympathetic nurturing of the hapless Hermano highlights the link between the two fights. Both fights symbolically represent the abuse of a victim who is, even at the start, already closer to the bottom than the aggressor. This dynamic recalls Tod's initial vision of breaking Faye: he envisioned not helping her out of the swamp of her false dreams, but rather shoving her back down into the muck.

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