The Day of the Locust

by: Nathanael West

Chapter 14

Summary Chapter 14

Tired from his run, Tod falls and lays on his back, listening to a bird's song. Tod begins thinking of the preliminary cartoon drawings he is doing for his Los Angeles painting. He faces the task of making the painting nearly celebratory in tone, with the arsonist crowd appearing happy. Tod worries that he might be overestimating the importance of his crowd, the people who come to California to die. He wonders if they are really "desperate" enough to set the city on fire. He then reassures himself that he does not have to be a prophet, only a painter. Tod nonetheless holds on to this role of prophet, happily envisioning the whole country eventually in the flames of civil war. When he finally gets up and walks back, he sees that Faye has left in her car.

Analysis

Chapter 14 could be viewed as an early climax of The Day of the Locust. The chapter makes explicit the violence that has been only latent thus far in the novel, and brings four of the main characters together in a situation that stands as a preliminary version of the events at the end of the novel. Violent and sexual emotion runs high, and West finally distinguishes Faye as a sort of center to the novel, an object around which the rest of the characters circle and compete. Faye offers a release for the pent-up frustration that remains latent under their daily boredom.

The setting of the chapter covers a considerable range, from city boulevards to surrounding hillsides and canyons, reinforcing the motif of the grotesque—the natural and the unnatural wedded together. The city landscape appears as violent: Hodge's window, for example, features torture instruments and tools to abuse horses to submission. This violent setting is not confined to the city, however, as the description of the hills and canyons around Hollywood emphasize the violence of the natural creatures, such as the hummingbird chasing the jay. West also describes the natural setting with unnatural metaphors, as when he likens the birds to "metal confetti." The natural and the manmade, or unnatural, are therefore linked by the narrativ,e creating an impression of the grotesque.

The violence of in this chapter springs not only from the setting, but out of the characters as well. Many of these characters appear to have only two modes of existence: boredom and violence. They switch from boredom to violence fluidly and with minimal provocation, as we see in Earle's quick transition from standing quietly and uninterestedly to kicking Calvin violently in response to his teasing. Violence is inherent in many of the characters everyday actions, not merely the actions that are explicitly or drastically violent: Earle pulls the quails' heads off while making the meal, and Miguel smiles at Faye sinisterly from across the fire.

Faye represents an exception to this model of boredom and violence. All of the male violence in this chapter—Earle's assault on Miguel with his club, Tod's rape fantasy—erupts in response to Faye. She is not quite oblivious, yet remains wholly impervious, a detachment consistent with the behavior we have seen her display earlier in the novel. Faye acts like a film character, and her act continues regardless of the responses of her companions. We see this detachment clearly in Faye's argument with Earle about dinner and quail traps: Faye's attitude toward Earle has little to do with what he says and does, leaving him quietly confused, feeling as if he is in a film but does not know the script.

The chapter ends with Tod lying on the ground, thinking about his painting after giving up his chase for Faye. He happily contemplates his role as painter- prophet of the coming uprising of the crowds in Los Angeles, not appearing to acknowledge that he himself has been swept up by this same violence that he predicts will animate the crowds. Tod's chase after Faye in the woods recalls his own portrayal of Faye running away from a group of men and women in the painting. Tod's role as aloof analyzer, or illustrator/predictor of the actions of masqueraders and audience, is therefore called into question here, as Tod himself has descended into the fray.