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The Day of the Locust

Nathanael West

Chapter 13

Chapters 11–12

Chapter 14

Summary

Back in the present, Tod thinks about his relationship with Harry and Faye. Harry continued to be ill after he fell sick at Homer's house, so Tod began visiting him nearly each day. Whenever Harry had other visitors—mostly performers—Faye would invite Tod into her room. Faye's actions and words are incredibly artificial, but Tod finds them charming because he understands the workings of their artificiality and understands that Faye has never learned how to be genuine. Faye further endears herself because she can laugh at the artificial way she produces her fantasies, if not at the fantasies themselves.

One night, Faye explained to Tod what she does with her free time: she shuffles through a variety of dream plots that she keeps in her mind, picks one, and then mentally rehearses the storyline while lying on her bed. Tod interpreted Faye's self-critical smile upon telling him about this pastime as evidence that she knows that her method, unlike a daydream, is conscious and mechanical, but that any dream is better than none at all.

The first night Tod heard the content of one of Faye's dreams was the night she came upstairs to get him because she thought Harry was dying. Harry was breathing regularly when they reached the Greener apartment, so Faye invited Tod into her room and made him a business proposal: she would give him storylines and he would write them into screenplays. Faye's first plot involved a spoiled princess on a yacht who falls in love with one of the sailors. The sailor will not have the princess, but there is a shipwreck and they end up together on a South Sea island.

Tod understood that Faye got the inspiration from this storyline from the poster of the Tarzan movie that hangs on her wall. Tod responded enthusiastically to her story. He desires Faye because she seems so self-contained and bogged-down in her dreams. Instead of wanting to help her out of her dream world, though, Tod wants to violently shove her back down into the "soft, warm mud" and desires to rape her.

Faye selected her next plotline, which concerned a chorus girl who gets a big break when the lead in her show gets sick. Tod noticed that the style of her telling varied from the South Sea story. Faye suddenly signaled that Tod should leave. He tried to kiss her but she stood up and saw him to the door. She allowed him to kiss her in the hall, but stopped him when he continued. Tod went back to his room thinking of the drawings he had made and would make of her. Faye appears in "The Burning of Los Angeles" naked and running from a small crowd, one of whom is about to throw a rock at her. Faye appears to be running fast, but her eyes are closed and she is smiling.

Analysis

Chapter 13 brings us back to the present tense and back to Tod's point of view. Here, Tod explains his attraction to Faye, which is strong despite her obvious artificiality. In fact, Faye's artificiality is so blatant and obvious that it seems natural to Tod. Her artificiality is natural in the sense that it is the way she has always acted, as she has never learned how to act differently. Faye's artificiality also has no ulterior motives: it is not an attempt to conceal anything, but is merely blatant Hollywood imitation. Tod explains that the workings of Faye's affectations are laid bare, like the backstage view of a production.

Indeed, this chapter presents Faye as natural in a variety of ways. As in Chapter 11, Faye has a natural childlike quality, begging Tod to help her with her father, making up "little stories" for herself, lying on her bed listening to the radio, buying an ice cream soda. She also seems natural in her genuine, uncritical, and unironic view of her self-presentation. She has no critical distance from the triteness of her stories and is thus unconcerned about the plausibility of her affectations. Her animalistic qualities also seem somewhat natural: she does not respond to or understand complicated verbal cues, such as Tod's roundabout compliment, but she does respond to gestures and body language, such as Tod's move to kiss her.

If Faye were not genuine or natural in her artificiality, she would concern herself with the perceptions her audience had of her. However, the naturalness and simplicity of her artificiality ensures that she remains unconcerned with the way her acting is received. She thus stands as wholly self-sufficient and self-contained. Faye is perfectly happy to remain alone in her room, playing out her stories for herself. She is vaguely interested in making the stories into movies but, unlike Claude Estee, she does not seem concerned with how audiences might respond. Faye is unable to see the backstage workings of her own production, unlike Tod, who correctly guesses that the Tarzan picture on her wall is what inspired her South Sea story. It is this lack of self-reflection that gives Faye the self-contained quality that both attracts and engenders violent feelings in Tod. Faye's naïve enjoyment of her clichéd plotlines lends her an "extraordinary color and mystery" but also gives her the appearance of "trying to run in a swamp." Tod feels an attraction to her "egg- like self-sufficiency" only in the sense that he wants to break it, to break her.

Tod's portrayal of Faye in "The Burning of Los Angeles" suggests an ironic, sinister version of Faye's dreams for herself. She would like to become a famous movie star, pursued attentively by groups of fans, but in Tod's painting she is chased by an angry mob with violent intentions. This portrayal of Faye is again naturally animalistic, as she runs from the crowd just as instinctively as a bird would flee predators. However, the near-smiling, "dreamy" expression Faye wears contrasts with her panicked, straining body—yet another example of an image of the grotesque in The Day of the Locust. This particular image of the grotesque stand as the emblem of Faye's self-contained state, and further invites Tod's violent feelings toward her.

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