The Day of the Locust

Summary

Chapter 18–19

Summary Chapter 18–19

Tod is able to stay away from Faye for several months. In the meantime he hunts for new artistic subjects, going to various Hollywood churches—a weightlifting church, a fortune-telling church, a modern church, and others—to study the worshipers. He especially notices the discrepancy between the worshippers' shrunken, tired bodies and their frenetic minds. One night, Tod watches a man at the "Tabernacle of the Third Coming" angrily speaking a mixture of sinister warnings and lifestyle suggestions. Tod does not laugh at the man's strange rage, but the rest of the worshipers respond by jumping up and shouting.

Analysis

The eerie landscape of discarded studio sets Tod traverses in Chapter 18 recalls his earlier description of the architecture of Pinyon Canyon. Seemingly all of history is represented and recreated somewhere on the movie lots. The replay of Napoleon's charge on Mont St. Jean is even more of a replay than the directors intended—Napoleon's failure to notice the ditch is reborn as the directors' failure to realize the set is still under construction—but Tod is the only person present who has enough knowledge of history to realize the irony. Indeed, the vast majority of the characters in The Day of the Locust live in a vacuum of the present: broader human history is largely unimportant or irrelevant to the novel itself, and many of its characters operate independently of any knowledge of their individual pasts or futures. Mrs. Loomis displays this shortsighted historical view in Chapter 19, characterizing herself as an "old settler" after only six years of residence in California.

The "dream dump" of old studio sets is probably the most famous image in The Day of the Locust. The dumping ground becomes an immediate symbol for the unrealized dreams of Hollywood. Tod's interest in this landscape comes largely from the painters he has been thinking of lately: the seventeenth- and eighteenth- century Italian artists of "Decay and Mystery." At the start of the novel, Tod identifies Goya and Daumier—renowned as painters of human subjects—as his masters. Tod's new inspirations—Rosa, Guardi, and Desiderio—are known as painters of setting, rather than the human form, painting natural landscapes of mountains and images of urban architecture. Tod is constantly interested in reading the emotional life of the Hollywood population through the architecture of movie lots, and architecture of the city more generally.

Adore, Mrs. Loomis' son, presents a further image of the grotesque. His appearance and mannerisms seem to be half the groomed and pressured role-playing his mother wants and half a typical eight-year-old's reaction to such odd upbringing. Adore's unruly, menacing faces are made even more unsettling because they appear on his plucked and manicured face, and on a small body that is dressed in a man's suit. Adore's role-playing is even more grotesque because of its crudeness and disturbing sexuality: his rendition of the blues song "Mama Doan Wan' No Peas" stays true to the original accent and sexuality. It is difficult to tell whether Adore truly understands the content and tone of his performance or is merely rehearsing a set of words and movements he has been taught.

The idea of religious search, which has been touched on in the novel but not fully explored to this point, reaches the forefront in Mrs. Loomis's remarks about her spiritual "Search for Health, along the Road of Life." Prompted by her comments, Tod decides to visit Hollywood churches and sketch the worshipers, who appear to be the same Midwesterners he has been interested in all along, those who have come to California to die. Rather than satirizing the silly gimmicks of each church, or pitying the worshipers for their bent and tired bodies, Tod focuses respectfully on the inarticulate, primal rage the worshippers all feel. West thus links spiritual searching with the frustration and desperation of the class of Hollywood people with whom Tod has concerned himself over the course of the novel.