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The Day of the Locust

Nathanael West

Chapters 7–8

Chapter 6

Chapters 9–10

Summary

Chapter 7

Homer Simpson came to Hollywood from Des Moines, Iowa, on his doctor's recommendation. Homer had been sick with pneumonia and had lost his job as a bookkeeper at a hotel, a position he had held for twenty years. A Hollywood real estate agent bullied Homer into renting a house of "Irish" design in the midst of the rest of the "Spanish" houses in Pinyon Canyon. It is a strange house, with a thatched roof made of heavy paper. Inside, the living room is "Spanish," with orange plaster walls and artificial plants in Mexican pots. The bedrooms were done in the "New England" style, each with a dresser "painted to look like unpainted pine," a spool bed, and a picture of a New England farmhouse.

Chapter 8

Homer took only a few minutes to unpack his things into his new house. He sat motionless on the couch for almost thirty minutes, then went and sat on the edge of the bed. Homer felt sleepy, but was afraid to sleep because he was afraid he would never get back up. Deciding to sleep anyway, Homer set his alarm for seven o'clock in the evening. Even with the alarm, he had a hard time waking. After he finally got out of bed, Homer mentally checked his body parts, especially his large hands, which are much less sensitive than the rest of his body. In the bathroom, Homer put his hands into a basin of cold water to wake them. He then ran hot water for a bath and sat to wait for the tub to fill. His body is well proportioned, except for his small head and large hands. Nonetheless, he still looks weaker and more infertile than he should.

As Homer got in the tub, he began to remember the very thing he did not want to think of, and began sobbing. When he had worked in the hotel in Iowa, a woman named Romola Martin had been late with rent, and the hotel manager had sent Homer to evict her. Miss Martin was an alcoholic who had flirted with Homer in the escalator. When Homer entered her messy room, she was drunk and began crying, explaining to him that she had no money. Homer dropped his own wallet in the woman's lap and she asked him to sit down. He hugged the woman and began unconsciously touching her, trying to make the sensation of "sweetness" that he felt transfer to her. Suddenly, the phone rang and Homer answered it and spoke with his manager. He then could not continue touching Miss Martin, who was now sprawled on the bed. Instead, he ran out of the room, and found out the next day that Miss Martin had settled her bill and left. Homer tried to find the woman in other hotels but had no luck. The incident with her had happened just before the bout with pneumonia that led him to move to California. Homer could afford not to work for a bit, as his father had left him some money to add to his own savings.

Analysis

Chapter 7 begins a series of chapters told in flashback, and also marks the section of the book that shifts the point of view from Tod to Homer. The transition is a somewhat difficult and jarring one, and, indeed, West has been criticized for the confusion of narrative voice in this part of the novel. Up until this chapter, the third-person narration has given us Tod's point of view exclusively. The language of this third-person narration sometimes uses words and descriptions that could easily be Tod's own, stemming from his own mind and thoughts—a technique called "free indirect discourse." When the narrative slides to Homer's point of view, however, the language of the narration is more distant from Homer's consciousness. The words used to describe Homer and his surroundings are not Homer's own thoughts, but can not technically be Tod's either, as they narrate events for which Tod was not present. Therefore, although West offers us two points of view—Tod's and Homer's—Tod's consciousness still dominates the novel. Indeed, the concerns of the narrator of Chapter 7 do appear dictated by Tod's own concerns—especially his interest in the masquerade of Hollywood architecture.

The description of the house Homer decides to rent relates back to Tod's Chapter 1 description of the garish architecture of Hollywood. Chapter 7 further develops the concern with architecture, now focusing more specifically on the idea of reproduction versus authenticity. The exterior of Homer's house is a reproduction of an Irish cottage, and the interior attempts to replicate Spanish and New England decoration. The fake nature of the house is evident in several angles. The house's very setting—in an arid, desert Hollywood canyon—highlights the falseness of the Irish cottage exterior. Likewise, the materials themselves, as Tod notices in Chapter 1, point to their own status as replicas, such as Homer's dresser that is "painted to look like unpainted pine." Finally, the existence of two bedrooms with perfectly identical furnishings emphasizes the fact that the house and its contents are merely copies, not originals.

Homer's encounter with Romola Martin, told in flashback, puts him in direct contrast with the more uncontained, animalistic sexuality that circulates around the women we have seen in the novel thus far. Homer had naïvely hoped for an innocent and sweet encounter with Miss Martin, but the setting and context—Homer's gift of his wallet, the nagging phone call from the hotel manager—reveal the inherent sordidness of the encounter, which makes the memory uncomfortable for Homer. He spends most of his days sleeping, eating, or willfully attempting to forget his encounter with Miss Martin, and it becomes clear that his oversized hands are the outlet for this repression. Homer's too- large hands are extremely fidgety, and West portrays them as having a will of their own.

Homer's hands are one element of a broader motif that pervades The Day of the Locust—the grotesque. Tod uses the word "grotesque" specifically to describe Abe Kusich in Chapter 2, but in a broader sense the word could be used to describe much of what Tod notices about the people and settings of Hollywood. "Grotesque" originated as an artistic term, referring to a piece of artwork that combined human, animal, or floral parts together in an unnatural, discordant way. Recently, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, grotesque has come to encompass more general "comic distortion." Abe, then, could be loosely classified as grotesque due to elements such as his elfish hat, which clashes with his business suit, or his self-proclaimed sexual appetite, which seems at odds with his childlike stature. Homer's hands evoke the grotesque because at times they seem to belong to another animal entirely, or to even be other animals themselves. Indeed, at one point, his hands are described as a "pair of strange aquatic animals." As the novel continues, we see the grotesque come to stand for the imagery of Hollywood as a whole—the manufactured quality of the town itself bordered by the natural landscape of the surrounding hills.

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