“The Day of the Locust” is a 1939 novel by Nathanael West. The book was acclaimed by fellow novelists of the time but mostly ignored by critics and only sold a little over 1,000 copies during it’s first run of publishing.
Since the author’s untimely death, the novel has taken on more success and has been included in Time magazine’s 100 best English-language novels from 1923 to 2005.
The novel revolves around the character of Tod Hackett, a screenwriter living in Los Angeles California who is working on a painting depicting a riot in the city and is desperate to study the locals in order to include them. Tod falls in lust with a movie extra neighbor named Faye who rebuffs him. Faye has a cadre of admirers all of whom flock around her throughout the novel as she enjoys their attention.
The novel was adapted into a movie in 1975 by Paramount Pictures and play in 2013.
At the beginning of the story, the main character, Tod Hackett finishes a day of working as a set designer for National Films in Hollywood. Tod leaves work and takes a streetcar home. He has been in Hollywood for three months after being recruited fresh out of Yale to work for the company.
As Tod travels home, he people watches and divides the people of Los Angeles into two categories: People who seem to be either coming from or going to somewhere and people who are going nowhere. Tod thinks that the people going nowhere merely came to California to die. Tod studies these people most of all, as he wishes to include their type in the painting that he is working on. He calls the painting “The Burning of Los Angeles.”
Tod returns home to his apartment on the third floor of the Bernardino Arms. When he reaches the building, he pauses on the second floor for a few moments in the hopes that he will bump into his neighbor, Faye Greener. When he gets home he sees the business card of his friend Abe Kusich stuck in the crack of his door. Tod is currently working on a set of lithographs featuring Abe, Faye and Faye’s father as models.
Abe is a friend of Tod’s and a little person. Tod first met him when he first moved to Hollywood and found Abe laying in a pile of women’s clothing in the hall outside Tod’s apartment. A woman was shouting at Abe and opening the door to toss his clothes outside. Tod let Abe come into his house to dress, and Abe, who was initially hostile changed his attitude abruptly when he began talking about his job at the racing track. After Tod correctly guessed the origins of one of the horse’s names, however, Abe became belligerent again. Tod quickly learned that this behavior was mostly Abe’s personality.
Tod takes a nap and wakes to get ready to go to a party. Faye is an extra in the movie industry, and Tod has feelings for her. Faye has told him that she doesn’t want to date him as he is neither rich nor attractive. Tod looks at a picture of Faye from a film she was in and thinks that she looks like she is inviting him to a “struggle, hard and sharp.” Tod goes to a party at screenwriters named Claude Estee’s house. When Tod arrives, Claude is standing on his porch pretending to be southern gentlemen and dressed in his usual elaborate style. Claude tells Tod that they are going to a brothel after the party.
At the party, Tod interacts with a saucy older woman named Mrs. Schwartzen who wishes to hear all about the brothel and a group of men who are discussing the film industry. Before he can leave, Claude pulls him aside and begs him to have a scotch in the library. Tod agrees, and they discuss the brothel, which Tod says that he will not be going as brothels depress him. Tod tells Claude that he feels being attracted to a girl is like concealing something that’s a little too large to fit into your pocket. One of Claude’s servants enters to tell him that the party is ready to go to the brothel.
Tod agrees to go, and on the way, Claude tells him that the madame, Mrs. Jenning only takes wealthy gentlemen as customers. Mrs. Jenning insists on talking about culture and arts with her customers, and when the men arrive, she sits them all down to watch a foreign film. When Tod steps out for some air, he overhears a girl singing and realizes that it is Faye’s best friend, Mary Dove. This leads Tod to wonder if Faye works for Mrs. Jenning too because if so he could easily have sex with her.
However, when he asks Mrs. Jenning about Faye, she says that she does not know her. Tod is not disappointed as he wishes to win Faye over with love and feels that his chances are good. Recently he has been taking care of Harry, Faye’s sick father. Tod enjoys talking to Harry as he feels that Harry’s job as a clown makes him a good character for one of his paintings. Harry used to be in vaudeville and nearly became famous from it. But after he moved to Hollywood, he couldn’t get a role in a film and had to take a job selling silver polish door-to-door.
The day that Harry got sick, he was selling silver polish to Homer Simpson, a shy man from Des Moines, Iowa. Homer is a strange little man who was told to move to Hollywood on his doctor’s recommendation and as he suffers from several illnesses. The book shifts to Homer’s story for a few chapters and it is revealed that he is haunted by an encounter that may either have been a near sexual encounter or near sexual assault of a woman who lived in a hotel that he worked at.
Homer’s story takes the reader through a day with him where he takes a depressed bath and then leaves to walked nervously down Hollywood Boulevard. A homeless person approaches him asking for change, and Homer nervously throws some on the ground before running off. Homer goes to the market and buys canned foods and hesitates on the steep path back to home. He gets so nervous to go down the empty street that he decides to call a cab. When he is at home, Homer mostly sits in his backyard and puts a book on his lap that he does not read.
One day, about a month after Homer moved into his house, Harry Greener knocked on the door selling silver polish. Homer does not like the company and tried to get the man to leave. But Harry was persistent and kept asking for a glass of water, so Homer felt that he had to let him in. Once he was inside, Harry did part of his clown routine, and Homer laughed because he felt that it was expected of him.
Harry suddenly began to feel ill, and Homer brought him more water. Harry offered him a can of shoe polish for half off in appreciation. Feeling bad, Homer bought two cans from the man. Harry began laughing and couldn’t stop; he seemed to have some fit where he began doing more of his clown and pantomime routine before collapsing on the couch. After resting, Harry asked for a drink, and Homer brought him a glass of wine. He asks Homer to bring in his case of shoe polish from outside, and when Homer stepped outside, he saw Faye waiting in her car for her father.
Homer asked Faye to come inside to fetch her father. Homer felt that Faye was so beautiful that he had to avoid looking at her but he felt that Faye enjoyed being looked at. Homer offered the father and daughter lunch and Faye helped him make it. Faye and her father got into an argument and she punched him in the mouth. Homer took her out of the room as she was sobbing. Harry fell asleep and Homer gave Faye coffee. She told him about her dreams of becoming a movie star and how acting ran in her family.
When Harry woke up, he came into the kitchen still sick but smiling. He and Faye talked like their fight had not even happened. Harry asked if Homer lived alone and would take boarders and Homer was slightly offended. Faye scolded her father and told him it was time to go. They gave Homer their address and left. Over the next few days, Homer thought a lot about Faye although he was afraid of becoming romantically involved with anyone. The next day he impulsively decided to take a walk and found himself walking by the Bernardino Arms. Giving up on his struggle to forget Faye he looked up her apartment and brought her flowers the next day.
Back in Tod’s storyline, he thinks about Harry and Faye. After he heard that Harry had fallen ill, Tod began visiting him everyday. Sometimes, Faye would invite Tod into her room. Tod knows that everything that Faye says and does comes off very fake, but he finds it endearing as he believes that she never learned how to act genuinely toward other people.
One day Faye tells him that she often entertains herself by cycling through a series of plotted fantasies in her head. Shortly after she told him this, Faye offered to sell some of the storylines to Tod to write screenplays. Her first plot was about a spoiled princess and a sailor who live on a yacht. The spoiled princess falls in love with the sailor but he will not have anything to do with her. Later, the yacht crashes and the two get together.
Tod realizes that she developed this fantasy after looking at the “Tarzan” poster on her wall. Tod also decides that he enjoys Faye’s dreams but that he does not want to help her come out of her dream world and grow up. Instead he begins having rape fantasies about her.
One day when they were discussing the storylines, Tod tried to kiss Faye, but she stopped him. She allowed him to kiss her in the hall before he left but stopped him before he could go any farther. Tod returned to his room and added her to the “Burning of Los Angeles” painting. In the painting, Faye is running from a crowd of angry onlookers, and one is throwing a rock at her. Faye is naked and appears to be running fast although her eyes are closed, and she is smiling.
One night, Tod asks Faye to dinner but she tells him that she cannot go, as she is having dinner with another man, a tall cowboy from Arizona named Earle Shoop. But when Earle hears this, he invites Tod along. When Tod goes to meet Faye, Earle is already there with two other men named Calvin and Hink. The three men talk about a local picture that is requesting cowboy extras. They begin arguing and Earle kicks Calvin in the behind which makes Tod laugh. Faye arrives and Tod and Earle get into her car.
Earle confesses that he does not have any money to buy them dinner but that they are welcome to come back to his camp where his friend Miguel has set some quail traps. Faye is annoyed by this but drives out to the camp anyway. When they get to the camp, Faye greets Miguel with a hug and begins kissing Earle in front of Tod. The group drinks tequila while Miguel prepares the quails for eating.
After dinner, Miguel sings a song in Spanish and Faye begins dancing with Miguel and Earle. An altercation develops between Miguel and Earle and Faye runs into the woods to escape the fight. Tod chases after her and immediately begins seeing this as an opportunity to rape her.
Thankfully, he doesn’t catch her and gets too tired to keep running. He falls to the ground and listens to a bird singing as he thinks about his art. He begins to worry that he won’t be able to make the angry crowd look right but reassures himself that he will do fine and that he doesn’t have to be a prophet. He thinks of himself as a prophet, however, picturing the whole country in flames. When he finally walks back to the camp, Faye has already left in her car.
In the next chapter, Tod stops over to see Harry and learns that Faye has gone to the movies with Homer. Harry talks about the acting he has been doing before he has to stop because he is to ill to continue. Tod is impressed that Harry continues to act even when he is so sick. Tod imagines Harry in a play about his life as a young actor who married a dancer that ran off and left him with a baby daughter. Faye comes back home and tells Tod that she thinks Homer is a dope.
The next day, Tod sees people gathering outside the Greener’s apartment and learns that Harry has died. He goes over to comfort Faye but only pats her shoulder awkwardly. Mary arrives and hugs Faye, telling her to be brave. Faye says that she found her father’s body after coming back from the studio. Faye realizes that she does not have the money to pay for a proper funeral for her father and asks Mary if she can become a call girl for Mrs. Jenning. Tod offers to help her with the money instead, but the girls dismiss his offer.
At Harry’s funeral, Tod arrives drunk so that he will not have the energy to fight with Faye. Tod thinks that Faye looks more beautiful than ever in her sadness but can’t stop thinking about how she got the money to pay for the funeral. Tod asks to see Faye alone and then asks her for a kiss. She gives him one, but when he refuses to let her go afterward, she realizes that he is drunk. Tod begins criticizing her new line of work and Faye starts to cry again. Tod finally releases her and runs out of the room. During the funeral, Tod feels too uncomfortable to go up to see Harry one last time and eventually escapes out of the back of the chapel.
After her father’s death, Faye moves out of the Bernardino Arms building. Tod sees a costume for her at his movie studio and thinks that he knows the movie that she is going to be in. He rushes over to the set to see her but there is an accident on set and people are injured during a battle scene.
Tod returns to his studio with a few injured cast members who are excited about the idea of getting insurance compensation. When Tod gets back to his office, Faye is there. She thanks him for lecturing her about being a prostitute and tells him that she has moved in with Homer, as he is willing to support her. She invites Tod to dinner at Homer’s house.
At the dinner, Faye tells Tod that Homer supports her and does all of the cleaning and cooking. Tod thinks that Faye has chosen Homer only for his income and his house. Although he admits that Homer is a nice man. Tod angrily asks Homer when they are going to be married and Homer looks nervous. One of Homer’s neighbors appears in the backyard and asks if they have seen her son, Adore. She tells them that Adore is an actor and the boy suddenly appears, dressed like a grown man. He bows to them but then makes a funny face for which his mother scolds him.
Tod, Faye, and Homer go to the movies together, and Tod feels concerned and upset by his seemingly constant desire to violate and hurt Faye. He swears inwardly that he will stop chasing her and puts away his paintings of her. Tod manages to stay away from Faye for several months. In the meantime, Faye becomes more aggressive toward Homer, and he only gets more subservient. One day Homer begs Tod to go to a nightclub with them.
Faye treats Homer very poorly and then dances with Tod. Faye begins to cry, and Tod begs her to have sex with him, but she refuses because she doesn’t love him.
Homer tells Tod that he is letting Earle and Miguel live in his garage because Faye asked him to. Homer says that he does not like the men and Tod asks why he doesn’t just throw them out but Homer does not answer. Tod confronts Faye for taking advantage of Homer and she tries to distract him by inviting him to a cockfight with Miguel’s chickens at their house the next night.
The next night, Able, Earle, Miguel, Claude, and Tod are all present for the cockfight. After they have been drinking for a while, Faye invites them into the house. The men all lust after Faye and pretend to listen as she talks about her career. Tod eventually gets so disgusted that he leaves and wanders outside. Homer follows him, and Tod wonders why he feels so much anger toward the man. Homer confesses that Faye has been unhappy lately and has been drinking a lot. Tod tells Homer that he will report Miguel’s illegal chickens to the Board of Health but that he will have to kick Earle out himself. Homer tries to tell Tod something and calls him “Toddie” which angers him. Tod screams at Homer that Faye is a whore and Homer leaves to go back inside the house.
When Tod goes back inside, Earle and Faye are drunkenly dancing. Abe demands a dance, and he and Earle get into a fight. Abe loses, and Claude and Tod have to break up the fight before Earle kills the man.
The next day, Tod wakes with a hangover and goes to check on Homer. He finds the man sitting motionless in his kitchen and finds that Faye has left, taking all of her things with her. Homer begins to sob as he tells Tod that he has decided to go back to Iowa. Homer tells him what happened after he left the night before. Homer saw Faye dance with Claude and then saw her Earle force several kisses on her. She managed to break away and yelled at Homer for “spying” on her.
Faye stormed off to her bedroom. Homer tried to explain, but she wouldn’t listen. Later that night, Faye kissed him and forgave him. The next morning he heard her making noise and went to check on her only to see that she was having sex with Miguel. Earle overheard this and began fighting with Miguel. Homer left the room and went back to his bed when he woke up later Faye and her things were gone.
Tod leaves to get dinner, vowing to check on Homer later. He bumps into Calvin who tells him that he saw Earle earlier and the man had two black eyes. He says that Earle claimed that he got into a fight with Miguel over money and that Earle had already dumped Faye. Tod wonders where Faye is but does not worry about her as he thinks she is like a cork in the sea that always manages to float to the top. He thinks more about his “itch” to violate and rape her as he eats dinner.
When Tod leaves the restaurant, he stumbles across a crowd waiting outside a theater for the arrival of a celebrity. Tod walks through the crowd and experiences some shoving but laughs about it. He thinks that the crowd is made up of people who are savage and bitter from their boring jobs and lives. He thinks they have saved up to move to California only to get bored with it and that this violence is the only way of alleviating the boredom.
As Tod is watching the crowd, he spots Homer among them. Homer is carrying suitcases and tells Tod that he is leaving for Iowa. Homer acts aggressive and confused as Tod tries to convince him to take a cab with him and finally gets him to sit down on a bench. Tod notices the little boy, Adore standing behind a tree nearby. Adore throws a rock at Homer. Homer chases Adore and knocks him to the ground, stomping on his chest repeatedly. Tod tries to intervene but the crowd gets to Homer first and drags him to the ground. Tod is pulled into the crowd again but this time is almost trampled. He gets injured and shoved into a chain-link fence.
To calm himself he imagines that he is working on his painting and only comes back to the moment to realize that the police have intervened. Tod is put in a police car and requests that the officers take him to Claude’s house. Tod hears the police siren and imagines that it is coming from his mouth which makes him laugh. He begins to imitate the siren.
Tod Hackett – the main character of the novel. Tod is a former Yale student who is recruited by a movie studio to move to Hollywood and work for them as a set designer. Tod considers himself an artist and his main drive are working on the painting of a riot in LA which he calls, “The Burning of Los Angeles.” Tod is so obsessed with creating this painting that he regularly watches the faces around him in the city to try and replicate their moods on the crowd in the painting. He is especially fascinated with immigrants to the city that he assumes are bitter that they have not yet made a name for themselves.
Aside from his painting, Tod’s main obsession is his neighbor Faye. Tod is in lust with Faye and so desperate to have sex with her that he has regular thoughts of raping her and physically assaults her several times. As with most assaults, Tod does not seem to be in love with Faye but instead, desperate to control her and get her to stop speaking to and flirting with other men.
Tod vacillates between befriending and hating the other men in Faye’s life and does not seem to have any friends outside of these men aside from Harry, Faye’s father. At the end of the novel, Tod seems to suffer some mental break in the back of the police car as he begins imitating the siren and laughing hysterically.
Faye Greener – the main female character of the novel. Faye is an actress who is confined to “extra” and background roles and wishes to make a name for herself in Hollywood as a serious actress. At the beginning of the novel, Faye lives in an apartment with her silver-polish selling father. Soon, however, Faye’s father dies, and she resorts to prostitution to afford a funeral for him.
Faye seems to enjoy attention from men and thrive off of it. She regularly crowds her various suitors around her at parties and encourages them to fight one another in much the same way the men encouraged the chickens to fight one another in the cockfight scene. Faye is a performer and a dramatist who seems to feel that she must retain all of the attention in the room. However, when one of the men gives her his undivided attention she often grows bored and then aggressive as she does with Homer.
Despite this, all of the men in the novel besides Harry, Faye’s father, seem to fall in love with Faye instantly. She appears to have some magnetic attraction for them and uses it to her advantage as often as she can.
Homer Simpson – Homer is a nervous, slightly simple man who moves to LA from Iowa after an undefined sexual incident at the hotel that he worked at. Homer appears to have several anxiety disorders and is often led around and trampled on by the other characters. When he meets Faye, he falls for her instantly, and when she later asks to move in with him, he agrees right away. Homer seems to think this arrangement means that they are romantically entangled in some way. Although Faye is clearly using him, he is only one that cannot see it. Faye treats him badly and even abusively when she lives with him, and Homer only retreats further into a subservient attitude as a result.
After Faye leaves him, Homer shuts down and only comes out of it when he decides to move back home. His rage at Faye suddenly erupts in the form of a brutal beating delivered to his neighbor’s son. The reader does not get to see what happens to him after the beating but it is obvious that he is most likely arrested.
Nathanael West Biography
Nathanael West was born Nathanael Weinstein on October 17th, 1903 in New York City, New York. He was the oldest child of Jewish parents from Russia who lived on the Upper West Side of New York. At and early age, West began failing his schoolwork and dropped out of high school later attending Tufts College by forging a transcript to say that he had graduated. He was quickly expelled from Tufts and stole the transcript of a cousin with the same name to get into Brown University.
Although West did not enjoy schoolwork, he was an avid reader and enjoyed the work of French surrealists and British poets like Oscar Wilde. At this time he developed an interest in mysticism and Christianity.
West managed to graduate with a degree from Brown and then left for Paris for three months. At this time he changed his last name to West. When his family began experiencing financial difficulties during the Great Depression, West returned home and began working as a night manager at a hotel in Manhattan. While working there, he began writing seriously and published his first novel “The Dream Life of Balso Snell” in 1931.
In 1933, West moved to Hollywood to work as a screenwriter. Although he published three novels during the mid-1930s, West did not see much popular success with his writing and struggled financially for a time.
In 1939, he used his knowledge of the world of screenwriting to publish his novel, “The Day of the Locust,” a story about a man that moves to California to become a screenwriter.
West worked as a screenwriter up until 1940 when he died suddenly in a car accident while returning to Los Angeles from a trip to Mexico. He and his wife, Eileen McKenney were killed instantly, and their bodies were buried in Mount Zion Cemetery in Queens, New York.
After West’s sudden death, his reputation took on a new life, and his novels began to see more success. His 1933 novel, “Miss Lonelyhearts” about a male newspaper reporter who works as an advice columnist in New York, is widely considered to be his best work.