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The Day of the Locust

Nathanael West

Chapter 6

Chapters 4–5

Chapters 7–8

Summary

Tod has asked Claude to inquire about Faye to Mrs. Jenning. Mrs. Jenning, however, does not know Faye, much less employ her. After inquiring through Mary Dove, Mrs. Jenning had called Claude back to say that Faye was indeed unavailable.

Tod is not entirely disappointed since he would prefer to win Faye over himself rather than pay for her. Tod thinks his chances are good as he has been visiting the Greeners' apartment frequently to visit with Harry, Faye's father, who has been sick. Faye has been treating Tod more kindly, as a friend of the family. Tod enjoys spending time with Harry. Harry is a clown, and Tod believes that Harry's career as a clown offers some insight into the masses of staring people in Hollywood—the people Tod would like to paint. Harry now seems to be in clown mode all the time, as a method of defense against those who might otherwise punish him.

Harry often tells Tod stories of his vaudeville career. Although Harry knows his stage career failed, he has held onto a clipping of one mildly positive newspaper review as evidence that he was once close to success. Harry got no film roles when he came to Hollywood, and had to resort to selling homemade silver polish door-to-door.

The day Harry fell sick Faye had taken him out to sell his polish in her Model T Ford. It was on this trip that Faye met Homer Simpson, her new suitor. Tod remembers the day, a week later, when he himself first met Homer. On a day that Tod was visiting, Homer came to the Greeners' with flowers for Faye and wine for Harry. Tod was initially excited when he saw Homer, thinking that he was one of those who had come to California to die. Tod invited Homer in, but Homer passed his gifts to Tod and left. Tod immediately decided that Homer was not one of the staring crowd, as they were never shy like Homer was.

Tod next saw Homer standing outside the apartment building, staring. Tod said hello but Homer ran away. Tod saw him in the same place the next two days, and finally caught him by sneaking up on him. On that occasion, Tod managed to keep talking with Homer for several minutes until Homer got away. After that Homer and Tod talked easily, as Homer sensed Tod's sympathy.

Analysis

It is somewhat difficult to assess Tod's character because the text has a tendency to complicate his motives. At the beginning of Chapter 7, for instance, we see a series of examples of mercenary behavior on Tod's part: his attempt to determine if he can buy the right to sleep with Faye through Mrs. Jenning's call-house, followed by his further attempt to indebt Faye to him by spending time with her sick father. In each case, however, the narrative backs down from asserting such baldly selfish acts: Tod decides he would rather win Faye on his own terms rather than pay for her, and admits that he genuinely does enjoy spending time with Harry and hearing his stories. The main problem in determining Tod's character is discerning his attitude towards painting his subjects. It is unclear whether it is possible that Tod's friendship with Harry and Homer could be genuine in light of the fact that his interest in the two men is based upon what they can offer him in terms of his painting. Ultimately, the answer to this question will hinge on context, as we must determine whether there are, in fact, any characters who engage in genuine friendships in this novel, against whom we can judge Tod.

Chapter 6 also investigates physical humor and the ways in which physical humor works. The physical deformities and sufferings that comprise Harry's clown act are echoed in Tod's description of Homer's gestures and physical habits. Homer's reflex to mop his dry forehead, his fidgety hands, and his habit of hiding behind the palm tree and running away when approached could all, in a different setting, occur as part of a comedy act. The key to both Harry's and Homer's physical behavior is abuse—Tod identifies Harry's continuous clowning as self defense, because "most people…won't go out of their way to punish a clown," and Homer's habits seem a symptom of his larger fear that he will be noticed or even attacked. The old Times newspaper review that Harry keeps around makes it clear that audiences who do not respond to verbal humor do in fact laugh hysterically at his brand of physical humor: "The pain that almost…crumples his stiff little figure would be unbearable if it were not obviously make-believe. It is gloriously funny." Violence done to another, then, is funny, and not dismaying, when it is received as part of an act. Yet the determination of whether or not something is an act rests partly on setting and context. As we see with Tod's lithograph series, "The Dancers," it can be hard to distinguish between ecstatic performance and pain in a freeze-frame image, without the clues offered on a stage. In Tod's lithographs, the audience can be imagined instead as eager witnesses of real violence, rather than performance.

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