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The Day of the Locust

Summary

Chapters 15–17

Summary Chapters 15–17

Tod asks to speak with Faye alone. He asks her for a kiss and she grants him one. He refuses to let her go and she becomes annoyed, realizing he is drunk. Tod finally thinks of a line of attack and warns Faye of the diseases she is putting herself at risk of contracting. She ceases fighting him and cries to herself. Tod releases her and she runs out of the room. A man comes in to notify Tod that the funeral services are beginning.

Tod sits behind Faye, Abe Kusich, and various tenants of the San Bernardino Apartments. Tod notices some strange people sitting it the back who have come to watch. He identifies them as similar in spirit to the arsonist crowd of his painting. All at once, the people at the back decide to leave. Tod imagines that they are headed to the site of a reported sighting of a movie star.

The Gingo family—Eskimos brought to Hollywood long ago for a movie about polar exploration who since became friends of Harry—move to the front and gather around Faye, despite Mrs. Johnson's protests. The organist begins playing a Bach chorale, "Come Redeemer, Our Saviour," that Tod's mother used to play on the piano. Tod waits knowingly as the music becomes louder and more impassioned, almost threatening. He wonders if the funeral-goers will respond to the threatening tone of the music. Mrs. Johnson signals for the music to stop, as the time has come to carry Harry's coffin out. She invites last looks at Harry, and bullies those who hold back into coming forward. Tod escapes out of the back of the chapel.

Analysis

Chapters 15–17 focus on Harry's death and thus keep him as a constant background figure, once again held up as an example of a Hollywood masquerader. Like Faye, Harry's artificiality is over the top. Even at his own funeral he looks like an "interlocutor in a minstrel show." Tod imagines that Harry's facial features do not allow him any subtlety of acted emotion. Yet, while Faye does not concern herself with audience reception, Harry—as we have seen in Chapter 11—tries to use the pathos of his own life and his status as an unemployed clown to elicit responses from others. He seeks to make a victim of himself, to put that victim status on display, as we see in his habit of telling his sad life story to unwilling but attentive listeners in bars.

Aside from Harry's death, the other event that dominates these three chapters is Faye's decision to become a call-girl at Mrs. Jenning's. Though Tod tries to prevent Faye from resorting to prostitution, he seemingly does so for his own benefit, not necessarily to protect Faye. He appears to have learned that Faye does not need any protecting; indeed, in Chapter 16, we see that she alleviates her own misery by acting herself back to normal. Tod can allow this acting to take its course, but he cannot participate in this sphere: when he tries to adopt the slang terms that Faye and Mary quickly begin using, the girls reject him. Perhaps sensing that he does not look out for Faye's own good, they tell him to go elsewhere to "peddle" his "tripe." Addressing Tod as a peddler implies that the girls understand he only wants something from them, and that metaphorically he wants them to buy something from him. "Tripe" implies that Tod has nothing of substance or value to offer Faye. As with Homer's gift of his wallet and money to Miss Martin, even potentially well-meaning gifts come across as sordid.

Tod's mental search through various forms of argument—aesthetic, moral, practical—when arguing with Faye about prostitution recalls Mrs. Johnson's argument with the undertaker. Mrs. Johnson scolds the undertaker for substituting for bronze handles, saying, "it's the principle of the thing." Both Mrs. Johnson and Tod invoke some sort of higher authority or standard of ethics to argue their respective cases, which are based far more on their own individual desires than on any sort of moral or ethical principles. Mrs. Johnson is concerned less about the dignity of the coffin than about making the funeral a spectacle. Her complaint about the bronze coffin handles is not related to what Faye wants, or what is worthy of Harry, or even what Faye paid for, but merely reflects Mrs. Johnson's conviction that the funeral must be worth attending and watching. Indeed, an audience of people do attend—Tod notices people from the class of starers, the people who have come to California to die, appear in the back row.