It is hard to laugh at the need for beauty and romance, no matter how tasteless, even horrible, the results of that are. But it is easy to sigh. Few things are sadder than the truly monstrous.

This passage from the end of Chapter 1, which appears as Tod stands surveying the architecture of Pinyon Canyon, introduces the overriding aesthetic concerns of the novel. Several scenes, including one at the end of Chapter 19 that shows Tod at various Hollywood churches, depict laughter smothered or discarded in favor of a more decorous response. The Day of the Locust is a novel that speaks about laughter frequently, and even features characters laughing. Nonetheless, this laughter is not a marker of free-flowing humor, but rather a measure adopted only as an uncomfortable or aggressive reaction. Humor in the novel relates closely to the grotesque, or, as it is called in this quotation, the "monstrous." Both the grotesque and the monstrous refer to an image or creature that combines radically different parts, such as animal with human. This image of monstrosity originating in incongruence is used to describe much of what is startling or upsetting about the Hollywood landscape. The houses toward which Tod feels sadness combine absurd, incongruent styles of architecture from different times and places, and are built with shoddy materials that are pathetically artificial and flimsy compared to the originals.