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The Day of the Locust

Nathanael West

Chapters 11–12

Chapters 9–10

Chapter 13

Summary

Chapter 11

Homer had been living in his house for nearly a month when Harry Greener came to his house selling shoe polish. Homer tried to get Harry to leave, but Harry kept ringing the bell and asked for a glass of water. Homer let Harry in the house and gave him water. Harry did a bit of his clown routine and Homer laughed, knowing he was supposed to. Harry started in again, but felt suddenly ill, although he himself was not quite sure whether he was truly ill or merely acting ill.

Homer gave Harry more water, and Harry gave Homer a complimentary can of shoe polish in return. Homer asked how much the polish sells for. Harry said it costs fifty cents and then offered to give it to Homer for twenty-five cents. Homer protested, saying he could go to a store and buy a container twice as large for the same price. Harry acted hurt and got Homer to back down and apologetically buy two cans. In response, Harry tried out all of his laughs and settled on his "victim's laugh." Homer, uncomfortable, asked Harry to stop laughing, but Harry was now truly sick and could not stop.

Harry continued with another pantomime, making Homer nervous. Harry had a brief fit in which he ran through all his pantomime positions quickly, like a mechanical dance, before falling on the couch. After resting on the couch, Harry began to feel better and congratulated himself on his performance, thinking he could now get more money from Homer. He asked Homer for a drink and Homer brought a glass of port. He then asked Homer to bring in his case of shoe polish from the porch. Homer stepped outside and saw Faye standing outside. Faye asked for her father and sent a message for him to hurry up.

Back in the house, Homer asked Harry to leave. Harry was now just acting sick, and Homer became surprised at his audacity. But when Harry got up from the couch, he looked and felt faint. Homer went back outside to get Faye, who came in and seemed worried about Harry. Homer tried to avoid looking at Faye, who seemed beautiful to him because of her "vitality." Faye, however, clearly liked being looked at and executed her mannerisms for Homer like a dance.

Faye and Homer went into the kitchen to finish making the salmon salad Homer was going to eat for lunch. Homer watched as Faye quickly ate everything he offers her for lunch. They went back to the living room where Harry was now fully preoccupied with his illness, for once not even thinking about money. Faye leaned over her father, looking tragic. Harry reacted violently, annoyed with Faye's artificial sadness when he really was sick. Harry began laughing furiously, a practice Faye hated. Faye began singing and dancing to "Jeepers Creepers," which Harry hated just as much. When she finished, Harry unleashed his most awful, punishing laugh. Faye shook him angrily, finally punching him in the mouth, which silenced him.

Homer took Faye into the kitchen where she began sobbing. She went to the bathroom to clean her face and Homer checked on Harry, who was asleep. Homer gave Faye coffee and cookies. She sat down and told Homer about her aspirations to be a star and how acting ran in the Greener family. Homer merely nodded occasionally as she went on and on about the film industry.

Harry came into the kitchen still looking sick, but smiling. Faye and Harry talked to each other as though their fight had not taken place. Homer gave Harry a snack. Harry asked Homer if he lived alone and if he would consider taking boarders. Homer was mildly offended, but before he could answer, Faye rebuked her father and told him it was time to leave. Faye gave Homer her hand and Homer would not let go. Faye and Harry thanked Homer and Faye gave Homer their address. While Faye got her car, Harry reminded Homer of his shoe polish order, so Homer slipped Harry one dollar. Harry became angry and humiliated by accepting the patronage of "a sucker" like Homer. Harry and Faye drove away, and Harry did not look at Homer.

Chapter 12

After the Greeners left, Homer sat in his back yard watching at his hands jerk around. Over the next few days he thought of Faye often, although he knew that romantic involvement would break down his defense and leave him "destroyed." Homer tried to sleep, but could not fall asleep as easily as he used to. He could not stay asleep either, and felt more awake than he ever had since the incident with Miss Martin.

Homer sang to fill up the house and thought of the trips he might take, but knew deep down that he would never buy a radio or take a trip. He began crying, which did not leave him feeling better, because he is one of those people whose sorrow is permanent. Homer eventually cried himself to sleep. The next day he decided to take a walk, which led him past the Greeners' building, the Bernardino Arms. Knowing he had given up his internal struggle to forget about Faye, Homer looked up their name in the building lobby and returned the next day with flowers for Faye and wine for Harry.

Analysis

Chapter 11 offers of a flurry of activity after the comparative dullness of the descriptions of Homer's daily life in the previous chapters. Harry and Faye stand as examples of what Tod has labeled the "masqueraders." Harry's clowning act, now used to sell silver polish, consists of him playing the victim—both as the comic physical victim of invisible kicks or bumps in the carpet, and as the victim of those buyers who refuse or question his product. This clowning seeks to conceal the fact that it is Harry himself who regularly victimizes customers, or at least tries to take advantage of them. We see this clearly when Harry punishes Homer so much with his trademark "victim's laugh" that Homer asks him to stop. This episode further highlights West's idea of the difficulty of determining who exploits whom in the performer-audience dynamic. Just as Harry's victim clown act is intended to make a victim of Homer, the ploy equally turns back on Harry himself. Harry is so used to his clowning that it has become something of a constriction. At one point, he is likened to a "mechanical toy" that goes haywire and is passively spun "through his entire repertoire." Harry's acting is so dominant that at several points in Chapter 11 he himself cannot tell when he is truly sick and when he is still acting.

Faye conducts her own performance upon entering Homer's house. This is the first full view we have of Faye. The childish spontaneity her summer outfit suggests contrasts sharply with her thorough performance of sexual gestures. In this sense, Faye, like her father, is portrayed as a passive conduit of practiced mechanical gestures.

Just as we have seen that Tod spends time at Harry's bedside when he is sick, Homer temporarily plays a caring, paternal role toward the sick Harry and the hungry Faye. Homer's compassion—though not deeply felt—stands in contrast to Faye's initial indifference and subsequent artificially dramatic concern. Furthermore, Homer's shyness and inability to communicate with others contrasts sharply with Faye's and Harry's aggressive and loud communication by way of acted roles, demonic laughter (on Harry's part), and sexualized jingles (on Faye's part). Harry and Faye do not read each other very well: Faye, for example, does not even realize she is antagonizing Harry with her clearly artificial, overdramatic concern. Their father-daughter communication consists mainly of ritual set pieces, such as their laughter and "Jeepers Creepers" argument, which ends in violence and anger.

Whereas Tod is slightly analytic or critical about his desire for Faye, Homer is blindly taken in with her vitality. Homer's hands continue to be the outlet for his repressed sexual desire. He cannot express his attraction to Faye overtly, so his hands become increasingly agitated and refuse to let go of her hand when they shake goodbye. As Homer tries to calm himself after the Greeners leave, his hands continue to betray the sexual feelings he knows will ruin his peace. At one point, we even see the sexualized image of his hands twining their fingers together "like a tangle of thighs in miniature."

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