The Day of the Locust

by: Nathanael West

Chapter 27

The crowd descends upon them and Tod, attempting to fend off blows, sees Homer dragged down into the mob. Tod rides through the crowd as it shifts, finding himself in a particularly hysterical section, where he stops a man from groping a young woman with a torn dress. In another area the mob is less excited. Someone thinks the riot is due to a movie-star sighting, but another corrects that the chaos started because a "pervert" attacked a child. The group makes jokes about perverts attacking children. In another part of the crowd, Tod is so compressed he can barely breathe. His leg has been injured, and he finally is shoved next to a chain-link fence. He holds onto the fence, kicking at a woman who tries to drag him back into the melee.

To distract himself, Tod envisions himself painting "The Burning of Los Angeles." He comes back to reality to realize that a policeman is trying to pull him over the fence. Tod is placed in a police car and tells the officers to take him to Claude's. For a moment, Tod imagines that the siren he hears is coming from his own mouth. He laughs at this image and then imitates the police siren at the top of his voice.

Analysis

When Tod arrives on the scene of Khan's "Pleasure Dome," the crowd is already a mob in the sense that it moves as one form, bulging in certain places when constrained in other places. The mob is powerful—even the police are careful not to anger it. The crowd's emotion is neither positive nor negative, but is simply tense and wound-up, waiting to spring. Any gesture either "too pleasing or too offensive" from the film stars has the potential to set it off. The police try to keep the man with the microphone, who is attempting to exaggerate the crowd's excitement, out of earshot. Tod also is aware of the crowd's power, and knows the danger of not subsuming himself to its vicious humor. The crowd teases Tod and puts him through the same motions that Harry Greener performed as a clown, such as kicking Tod when he bends to pick up his hat. The physical teasing has a menacing undertone that Tod avoids by laughing along, reasserting the humor of the motions and ceding the victory to the crowd.

When Tod sees Homer near the crowd, he recognizes that Homer no longer possesses the nondescript appearance of the starers, those who have come to California to die. Wearing a "rigid, mechanical grin," trousers pulled over his nightgown, and shouting, Homer has become, if not a performer, at least a spectacle. Homer's attack of Adore also seems mechanical. Tod and Homer exchange no words or shouts as Tod tries to keep Homer from stomping Adore to death. Homer's repeats his stomps over and over, despite Tod's resistance.

The crowd takes over almost immediately and its swift justice is without nuance: they pound Tod just as brutally as Homer, blind to the fact that Tod had tried to prevent Homer's attack. Tod is bounced around to different parts of the crowd, finding that some are less rabid than others, yet all are linked by an atmosphere of sexual violence, from an attempted rape in one area to an offhand joke about a man attacking a girl with scissors in another. Within the thickest part of the mob, chivalrous action is nearly impossible— Tod tries to rescue a girl from her attacker, but another man merely picks her up once she is free from the first. Tod is forced to injure others to protect his own body, as with the Western Union boy Tod pinches and the woman he kicks in the stomach.

Tod begins thinking about his painting, "The Burning of Los Angeles," and fantasizes that he is painting it at the very moment. This marks the first time the painting is explicitly acknowledged as Tod's method of "escape." If the mob around him distracts itself regularly with the spectacle of violence, Tod distracts himself with a vicarious representation of that violence. We can no longer see Tod as a completely detached observer of the people who have come to California to die. Indeed, in his painting, Faye and Harry Greener seem quite comfortable running from the crowd, while Homer sinks to the margins of the painting, just as his status throughout the novel is marginal. Claude and Tod as portrayed in the painting, however, seem more concerned with the mob chasing them. Tod depicts Claude as asserting his superiority within the crowd, perhaps as an element of the "moral indignation" Tod identifies as part of Claude's comic humor in Chapter 4. Tod, meanwhile, has picked up a stone to throw at the crowd. This implicitly links Tod with the crowd itself, as one member of the painted mob has a stone in hand ready to throw at Faye. The image recalls, in part, the well-known Biblical story of Jesus and an adulterous woman. The crowd wants to stone the woman and Jesus invites any one person who is without sin to cast the first stone. The image of the crowd and Tod, each with a stone, is a travesty of the Biblical image, in that the urge towards violence and spectacle has overtaken any sense of introspective, charitable justice.